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Deer and Raccoons and Pandas, Oh My!

Posted on June 3, 2015 by in The OFI Blog

Daisy Trevino recently completed two three-week internships with the Smithsonian Institution: one with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) at Front Royal and one with SCBI’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the National Zoo (NZP).

She writes about her experience as an intern below:

My name is Daisy Trevino and I was granted a 6-week internship through the Office of Fellowship and Internships (OFI).  My internship was split into two sections where I spent 3 weeks at Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and 3 weeks at the genetics lab at the National Zoo (NZP). daisy1

During my time at SCBI I was working with the ecology department whose two major projects were the Camera Acoustics and BiodiversiTree. The camera acoustics project involved setting up audio recording devices that would capture bird, frog, and bat calls. This project taught me how to use software, such as Raven, to help identify different calls. The goal of BiodiversiTree is to investigate the power and value of diversity in forests, therefore this project involved planting many trees of different native species on a variety of land plots. In order to increase the tree’s survival weed mats would be placed around the plant site. Another interesting activity I was included in was deer trapping. The ecology department has deer traps set up at different locations on SCBI property. The purpose of trapping deer is to record measurements and weights. A group of people would hold the deer down while measurements are taken and then the deer is lifted and weighed on a scale. As I tried lifting the deer up I realized how little strength I had! Nonetheless it was an unforgettable experience. Aside from those projects I also had the chance to observe a Red Panda necropsy!

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The remaining time of my internship was spent in Washington, D.C. working with Mirian Tsuchiya. My internship involved assisting Mirian with her Ph. D. project, which encompassed researching the Procyonidae family [including raccoons, coatis, and kinkajous]. Mirian is working on a taxonomic review of Procyonidae using molecular and morphological approaches. Most of her samples come from museum collections. We spent some time at the Natural History Mammal collection where we measured and photographed skull samples as well as skins. This will help Mirian distinguish difference between and within species. The most exciting part was the molecular analysis! I was fortunate enough that Mirian trusted me to conduct a DNA extraction, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. Essentially she gave me my own project with a tissue sample from a coati.

I also had the opportunity to clean-up DNA sequences and see the end product, which was the cytochrome B gene in the species. I attended a couple of interesting seminars and workshops. Thanks to Mirian I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation given by Sir David Attenborough!

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He is known for his natural history documentaries.  Although attending this presentation was exciting, without a doubt the most exciting part of my internship was the behind-the-scenes tour of the Giant Pandas!  Juan Rodriguez, who is a Giant Panda zookeeper, gave us an extremely informative tour.

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Needless to say I’m immensely grateful for this extraordinary internship! Even though my time at the Smithsonian was short I learned a great deal and met phenomenal people who are the best in their field.

Daisy Trevino (center) poses for a photo with NZP Geneticist Dr. Jesus Maldonado and Predoctoral Fellow Mirian Tsuchiya.