DNA Zoo

A collaborative proposal for the DNA Zoo: a biological tissue and DNA collection available online, managed by the Puerto Rico Zoo (Zoológico de Puerto Rico Dr. Juan A. Rivero) and the Biology Department, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez

We are proposing collaboration with the Puerto Rico Zoo (PRZ) in order to create a tissue and DNA collection representing both the diversity of species at the PRZ, as well as the diversity in the populations of vertebrate species in Puerto Rico and across the Caribbean, to be named “The DNA Zoo”.   The University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) has the capacity to extract and store the DNA, and proposes to incorporate the collection, DNA extraction, bookkeeping, and website development and maintenance activities into the university student education process.  This should encourage the participation of both undergraduate and graduate students, and stimulate the development of research proposals in zoo- and conservation biology, with a potential positive impact on ecological conservation, university education, and economic development in the entire island.

Puerto Rico Zoo has a large collection of tissues from vertebrate species representing an assortment of species from the exposition as well as the diversity of fauna from the entire island, including rare, endemic and threatened native species of fish, amphibians, reptilians, birds and mammals.  These collections are especially well represented by large African species, species from South and Central America, as well as Puerto Rico and the neighboring Caribbean.

We propose collaboration between the two institutions (PRZ and the Biology Department of UPRM) in organizing the tissue and DNA collection at the PRZ: “The DNA Zoo”.  The faculty and students at the Department of Biology will organize DNA extraction and storage from the PRZ specimens, and will initiate a creation of a publicly available online database serving as a portal for outside scientific collaboration projects with both participating institutions.  The collection, when combined with the genetic resources already present at the Biology Department, could represent the most significant vertebrate collection in the Caribbean, and serve as an invaluable source for education, scientific research and discovery.

Significant part of the research will be conducted at the Laboratory of Population and Evolutionary Genetics , in collaboration by Drs. Juan C. Martinez Cruzado and Taras Oleksyk from UPRM and Dr. Figueroa from PRZ.  Under their direction, undergraduate and graduate students will be involved in maintaining the collection and developing the online database.  The latter resource will serve to complement the current breeding program at the PRZ, as well as to provide the basis for ecological and conservation studies in Puerto Rico and the wider Caribbean region.

UPRM's comprehensive curriculum, and eligibility to receive grants from United States agencies, therefore presents special conditions for a highly competitive training and research program in conservation, comparative genomics and population ecology. The University has recently committed nearly $ 150,000 in funds to upgrade the Population and Evolutionary Genetics Laboratory with new equipment for DNA sequencing and genotyping.  At this time, the Laboratory features an Applied Biolsystems’s (AB) Open Array and an AB7500 real time genotyper, several PCR thermocyclers and a 3130 Genetic Analyzer with automated sequencing capacity, representing one of the most up to date genotyping and sequencing facilities on the island.

We intend to apply for external funding by submitting proposals for the Improvement to Biological Research Collection (IBRC) grant from the NSF and other appropriate internal and external funding.  In the future, the tissue collection will be complemented and expanded in the course of graduate and undergraduate research within this collaboration.   It will provide an excellent opportunity for the PRZ staff to participate in undergraduate and graduate education at the Biology Department, and will generate avenues for additional collaboration between UPRM and PRZ.   The website will facilitate wider public exposure to the Mayaguez Zoo.  The DNA Zoo collection will be ideally positioned to address the need for the animal population studies in the Caribbean, and will allow both the University of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Zoo to serve as the main sources of valuable information produced by research and conservation projects as well as in other regional surveys, particularly in conjunction with historical, climatic and geo-referenced records available at UPRM.  In the long term prospective, conservation, ecological and applied research can benefit immensely from joint PRZ-UPRM publications based on the DNA Zoo collection.

Subpages (1): Mundi the elephant
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