Endings and beginnings

Endings and beginnings

Sept. 8, 2015

Thomas Connor is a first-year PhD student studying with Jack Liu. He's spending his summer doing field work in and around Wolong, China. 

I returned from my first trip to China. Happily I was able to recover enough to get back into the field, but alas only once. We hiked to the border of Wolong Nature Reserve and the reserve to the north, Caopo. This area had excellent panda habitat and we found four different fecal samples. From a conservation perspective this was nice to see, as it is clear that pandas can move freely between these two reserves. In the future I hope to use genetic data from fecal sampling to evaluate connectivity between Wolong and neighboring reserves and unprotected across a larger area.

I spent quite a bit of time learning the process of DNA extraction and amplification in a genetics lab inThomas Connor in the lab Dujiangyan, about 3 hours from Wolong. The majority of the samples I worked on were successful which leaves me optimistic about the future. There is a PhD student there working on a genetics project exclusively within Wolong - Qiao Mai Ju. I call her Amber, however, an English name she chose based on her favorite character in the TV show “House.” She was extremely helpful this summer in teaching me the laboratory process, and we developed a good working relationship despite some initial concerns that my project may overlap hers. In the last week we made a particularly satisfying advancement, the successful extraction of DNA from samples stored in ethanol (rather than frozen fecal samples). This will make future field work logistically easier (no need to get to a freezer).

One day in the lab an acquaintance showed up to film me work for a half hour or so. I had met him and his three colleagues in Wolong earlier in the summer – they are making a documentary about giant pandas. Perhaps someday I will grace the screens of the Orient in an undersized lab coat and athletic shorts, methodically pipetting samples (they also got some earlier footage of Hongbo and me typing away on laptops).

On my way back to the USA I stopped for one night in Chengdu to meet a friend I worked with in Madagascar, who just moved to China to teach English for a while. I then had a full day in Beijing, and I am grateful to Hongbo who took me on a wonderful tour. After a sleepless 12 hour flight I arrived back in Michigan, and ready for a new school year!

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