I am roughly six months into my Master’s and this is my second post on the subject. Although I am not overly proud of my Msc coverage on the website, I am rather ‘chuffed’ with my research progress to date. My genetic samples are ‘amplifying’ and better yet, they are translating into clean, usable sequences, that I can move forward with. To put the previous sentence bluntly, my genetics are working and I am super ‘stoked’. It is however not always like this because as I am sure many other scientists will agree, science doesn’t always work out, well it rarely proceeds according to plan.
When I started work on my genetics at the beginning of this year, many, if not most of my samples gave me hassles, and this resulted in me doubting the very core of my existence, and whether I belonged in the ‘shiny’ molecular lab. Fortunately, I chose to persevere, to brave the genetic drought and my patience, or better yet, my tears, payed off. I just want to clarify, I never actually cried, I was just plagued with an acute case of ‘dribble eye’. It is a nasty ailment, that can be rather contagious if left untreated.
My Masters is split into two sections. The first chapter is a phylogenetic study of the genus Psammophylax and the second chapter is a phylogeographic study of the spotted skaapsteker (Psammophylax rhombeatus rhombeatus).
‘Phylogenetic analysis’ is a fancy way of saying genetic analysis and it involves using genetic sequences from all the species in the genus (P. rhombeatus, P. tritaeniatus. P. acutus, P. multisquamis, P. variabilis and P. togoensis) to create a tree showing the different species’ relatedness to one another, or lack thereof. Through doing this I hope to shed light on the skaapstekers and thus resolve the taxonomical uncertainties that currently plague the genus. Because of the lack of research in many of the African countries that house several of the skaapsteker species’, there is a possibility that my research could result in a new species being recognised. There is also the possibility that we could find that there are more recognised species than there are actual species, meaning that a species needs to be culled from the field guides. This sometimes happens when taxonomists use a variable characteristic to describe a new species when it doesn’t actually represent a new species but rather just a random variation within a single species. An example of this includes hair colour in humans. Although hair colour varies between individuals, we are all one species.
Although the term, ‘phylogeographic analysis’ seems daunting, it is less so than you may originally think, because what it really involves is the combination of genetic analysis with environmental differences. The analysis will determine whether individuals from the same species have different ‘genetic makeups’ based on the environment they are found in. For example, animals that live in a cold environment at high altitude will have different adaptions than animals that live in a warm environment at low altitude because the environment is different. This chapter will thus determine whether spotted Skaapstekers have different ‘genetic makeups’ based on where they are found in South Africa. Because the country is so variable, in terms of the environment, it is very possible that this chapter could unearth hidden genetic diversity enough to warrant the existence of new species of skaapsteker in South Africa.
My work however continues steadily and I should soon have answers to back-up or refute some of the possibilities that I have mentioned above.