By Charlotte Seid, Biorepository Manager at OGL
You may have visited a museum or an aquarium, but how about a DNA repository? The MSC’s Ocean Genome Legacy Center is home to over 23,000 DNA samples from many of the ocean’s strangest, rarest, and most threatened creatures.
Why do we collect DNA? The genetic material of life holds valuable information about each species’ unique adaptations, its evolutionary history, and the ways it could inspire biotechnology and medicine. The ocean is a vast and amazing source of genetic information, much of it still unexplored! OGL’s mission is to study and protect the biodiversity of the sea, and we make our samples available to researchers around the world.
Here’s a quick virtual tour where you can see a day in the life of OGL!
OGL’s samples come from scientific collaborators all over the world. DNA looks like a clear liquid, and we can extract it from bits of skin, fin, and other tissues. We only need a pea-sized piece of tissue to get lots of valuable DNA, so we are happy to make use of “leftovers” from marine research projects (especially from our friends at the MSC!). We also get great material from collaborators such as fisheries observers, marine mammal stranding response teams, and aquatic veterinarians. Some of our most recently added species include sponges from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (courtesy of Mark Patterson’s lab), icefish from Antarctica (courtesy of Bill Detrich’s lab), and the funny-looking but harmless Australian elephant shark (courtesy of Byrappa Venkatesh at A*STAR, Singapore).
In the lab, we extract DNA by gently dissolving the sample, separating the DNA from proteins and debris, and washing the DNA to get it as pure as possible. We then do several quality control steps to check the purity, amount, and approximate size of the DNA. If we have lots of samples to extract at once, we’ve got robots to help out! One of our automated DNA extractors can run 12 samples at a time, and another does batches of 96.
Once we have high-quality DNA, we archive it in our ultra-cold -80 °C freezers to keep it stable for many years. We keep tissue samples even colder, since they’re more fragile than purified DNA. Tissues are frozen at -180 °C using liquid nitrogen.
When possible, we’ll also save whole specimens so researchers can study the organism in detail and verify that it was identified correctly. These specimens, called “vouchers,” also double as educational displays.
What have we been up to this week?
Dave Stein, the OGL Technician, has been testing some new equipment. The little device on the bench is a homogenizer, which jiggles samples at high speed to break up tough material so we can extract DNA.
Remember the soft-shell blue lobster? The MSC Outreach staff kindly donated the molted shell to OGL. I’ve been preserving the molt as an educational tool to illustrate how lobsters grow and how they’re affected by shell disease.
We hope you enjoyed the tour! Feel free to leave us questions in the comments section.