[VIRTUAL] Extended Specimen discussion with NHMLA

This event has ended.


Fellows for the NHMLA can get tickets for the event at the NHMLA site. https://nhmlac.org/calendar/extended-specimen-lecture-series-part-iii-biodiversity-molecules-environmental-dna


Thu Jul 23, 2020 5:30 pm - Thu Jul 23, 2020 6:15 pm


*note this date and time correspond to Rachel's presentation. The two Thursdays prior also have presentations! See the list below.

The Extended Specimen 

Natural history museums are built (literally and figuratively) around collections of specimens. Part of our mission is to enable the best possible science from them. Of course, much of that science depends on integrating knowledge of the environment with the specimen object itself. But we’re all hobbled by the historical lack of clear linkage between specimens and the cloud of information that should connect to them — everything we know about their context when they were collected. The idea of the “extended specimen network”, to integrate all that information, link it to specimens, and make it available to everyone, motivates all three of the conversations we propose: one with an author of the influential paper that outlines this new “extended specimen” concept; another with pioneers in ocean exploration whose leadership in telepresence both brings shore-based researchers virtually to the field while packaging all the extended data of an expedition; and with a leader in the field of “environmental DNA” which extends our idea of a “specimen” to include environmental samples that capture the genetic identity of entire communities at once.

1. The Extended Specimen Network 

Speaker/panelist: Libby Ellwood (Research Fellow at NHMLA) — coauthor of the influential paper outlining the “Extended Specimen Network”: Lendemer J, et al. (2020) The extended specimen network: a strategy to enhance US biodiversity collections, promote research and education. BioScience 70: 23–30. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz140 

Specimens are the heart of natural history museums, and combined with all we know about the environment when they were collected, they can allow us to answer integrative questions about our past and present to predict our environmental future, but most information about specimens’ context is scattered everywhere — we have a seastar in a jar, but water chemistry data are in a desktop computer file — therefore we are creating the “extended specimen network” to seamlessly link specimens with all their data, allowing us to use museum specimens from the past to answer questions about our future. 

And this is science where you can participate. Community science intiatives, for example iNaturalist and Zooniverse, are opening the door to public participation in building and filling the network of data that surrounds our “extended specimens”. 

2. Remote Participation in Ocean Exploration: E/V Nautilus 

Speaker/panelist: Allison Fundis (Chief Operating Officer, OET) or Nicole Rainault (VP Exploration and Science Operations & Chief Scientist, OET) — Both researchers are long-time principals with the OET/Nautilus operation, and can speak in a fully informed way about OET operations and science goals. 

A key reason we know so little about what’s below our ocean’s surface is because it is expensive to get there and very few people can go there, so marine specimens are difficult to acquire and rare. With so few researchers in the field, progress is slow. But the E/V Nautilus, exploration ship of the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), is pioneering the use of telepresence to permit a whole community of participants to join expeditions in real time, offering far more expertise 

than could possibly be on board. As a bonus, the infrastructure of telepresence makes it much simpler to record and integrate all the extended environmental data for the locations and specimens being sampled. By linking seafloor mapping, physical measurements, video and still photography, and sample and specimen collection, the E/V Nautilus is creating an unparalleled integrated view of our ocean, available electronically to everyone. 

The E/V Nautilus streams the audio and video feed continuously to the public whenever they are exploring. Anyone, anywhere is welcome to join the expedition at http://nautiluslive.org and ask questions or add comments for the research and education staff on watch, 24 hours a day. 

3. Biodiversity from Molecules: Environmental DNA 

Anticipated speaker/panelist: Rachel Meyer (Adjunct Assistant Professor, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz) — Dr. Meyer directed the UC Conservation Genomics Consortium, including their CALeDNA project, which used a community science program to sample environmental DNA (eDNA) from soil and sediments across the State of California to create a comprehensive snapshot and archive of biodiversity based on environmental DNA. 

To manage our coastal environment, we need to track changes in what lives there. Until now, we have done that by laboriously sampling and identifying marine life, using nets, dredges, divers, and highly trained taxonomists. It’s really expensive work that isn’t keeping pace with our need to know what’s happening. But a new technology, environmental DNA (eDNA), lets us sample organisms’ DNA from seawater samples and inventory entire communities by sequencing the DNA they shed into the water. We’re extending our work from taking samples of individual organisms to sampling an entire environment in one jar of seawater. This technology dramatically improves our ability to see how marine communities are responding to environmental change by using an expanded view of what constitutes a “specimen”. 

Dr. Meyer is currently Project Investigator for “Protecting Our River”, a new initiative, funded by Metabolic Studio, that aims to use community engagement as a primary tool to create an ongoing monitoring and sharing community around the L.A. River system, based on environmental DNA technology (https://www.protectingourriver.org). As this project gets started, you are welcome to contribute, whether as a community scientist, as part of a local organization, or as an educator eager to bring the life of the L.A. river to its local communities.