The First Step Towards Genetics


I have loved snakes for as long I can remember. They fascinate and inspire me to read more and more. They very well may be the thing I choose to base my life’s work on one day, and it’s this love that has steered me towards my latest Zoological endeavour: the study of spotted skaapstekers and their distribution In South Africa

Unlike my first project which saw me growing buckets upon buckets of invasive water weeds, this project has me in an air-conditioned lab with finely-tuned scientific instruments – a hop, a skip and a mile away from my previous greenhouse and spade. It may not be as glamorous as birthing a T-rex but it has its perks. Firstly, it doesn’t pay. Secondly, it makes me feel stupid and thirdly, it makes me feel more stupid than the laboratory’s pet fish that eats its own semen. Granted, these are not perks but the semen eating Siamese fighting fish is weirdly frightening and fascinating all at the same time. (P.S. I don’t know if the fish’s diet is completely factual but I have it from reliable sources that it is).

Regardless of the fish and its diet, I believe this project is both challenging and rewarding at the same time because it promises new knowledge and new skills that are tantamount to the arsenal of any aspiring herpetologist.

Thus far I have completed the DNA preparation for most of the DNA samples from the Bayworld museum in Port Elizabeth. The preparation which involves clipping body tissue, extracting, amplifying and running DNA is a rather painstaking and unpredictable process which leaves even the most robust knees shaking from side to side. The end product, a small picture with an array of black and white lines can make or break your day and luckily for me, my day was made the first time I delved into the world of genetics.

My DNA samples were good and for this reason they were packaged and sent to South Korea only weeks ago for further preparation. The product of the preparation carried out in South Korea will be inputted into a rather sophisticated programme to determine whether the samples ascertained from the museum prove or disprove the existence of multiple subspecies of spotted skaapsteker in South Africa.

The project is still in its early stages because I have only done approximately a third of the necessary DNA preparations for the project. The next step which was begun only days ago will involve me preparing spotted skaapsteker DNA samples from SANBI (South African National Biodiversity Institute) in Cape Town. Once prepared, the large batch of samples will be sent to South Korea and following that will be analysed in conjunction with the samples from the Bayworld to determine whether spotted skaapstekers are perhaps more than just one species.

Although I am only at the beginning of this sure-to-be stressful endeavour, I am excited to see what the future holds and whether the spotted skaapstekers warrant taxonomic reevaluation.

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