Nine lucky middle schoolers spent a week studying DNA, thanks to a new program at the Burke that makes use of the museum's Genetics Resources Collection. Called "Investigating DNA: The Albatross Salvage Project," the day camp teaches the basics of how DNA is used to find answers to real conservation questions are the world.
The camp is organized around a central question: Can a DNA test determine the sex of albatross (gender is not always obvious in birds), so that a research in the field in New Zealand can use a blood test to pinpoint the sex of the birds she's working with? The Burke has several hundred specimens of the albatross from New Zealand , the sex of which has already been determined by dissection. So theoretically, by performing DNA tests on the specimens, a researcher could learn if those tests were accurate in identifying the gender in this species.
"That's the back story we created for the students' to make it interesting for them," said Sharon Birks, manager of the Genetics Resources Collection and one of the teachers for the camp. "...What they're doing in the lab is pretty much what they would be doing in an actual research project minus a couple steps that would either take too long or involve chemicals we don't want them exposed to. But they'll learn all the equipment, the whole process. And it's really not that far removed from a real world request."