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Genomics in the Jungle

Educational Organization:
Field Projects International

Date Posted:

Program Description:

Biological research is turning to genetic research methods for a deeper look into the factors that encode behavior and physiology. We use genetic techniques to determine species delimitations, define populations, understand mating systems, explain behavioral differences in foraging efficiency, screen for disease, conduct paternity studies, evaluate immune status and functioning, and explore microbiome diversity? and these are just a few examples of the full breadth of the field as applied to wildlife biology. The field of genetics is revolutionizing biological research, and in the past few years we have even witnessed the successful deployment of instruments that enable molecular work to be conducted ?on-the-fly? and in the field. These new tools are minimizing the hassles and barriers associated with transporting samples around the world to distant labs that possess the equipment and resources to extract, amplify, and sequence DNA. In many ways, this new technology is democratizing wildlife research by empowering field scientists all around the world with genetic tools to directly advance their research and conservation initiatives.

This course will take you to the Peruvian Amazon, where you will learn how field research is conducted, assist in sample collection, and then actually extract, amplify, sequence, and interpret genetic data to answer several practical research questions about wildlife ecology and natural history. It will take place at the Inkaterra Field Guides Station, which is the site of the Green Lab, the world?s first tropical rainforest molecular genetics laboratory. You will go from sample collection to sequence analysis directly in the rainforest. This course is will provide an introduction to next-generation primatologists and biologists, who will gain not only the skills requisite for field research but the technical know-how to employ genetic research tools in the field.

In this course, we will focus on three specific cases in which cutting-edge genomics can help us solve mysteries common to wildlife research in the field. The ultimate goal of all of these projects will be to use a MinION, a USB-sized powerful sequencer that is revolutionizing how we do genomics in some of the craziest places on the planet.

The MinION has been used to:

*do whole-genome sequencing to identify species with PCRs in under 40 minutes and whole genome amplification in under 100 minutes
*conduct real-time DNA sequencing in a remote rainforest by a course instructor
*sequence DNA offline in the Antarctic and even on the International Space Station in outerspace!

We will try to answer a few additional questions with all case studies:

*Can we use the What?s In My Pot (WIMP) workflow to accurately classify these species to a reference database in real-time for all of the case studies?
*How many different kinds of samples can we multiplex at one go on a MinION?
*Does the choice of DNA extraction kit affect the outcome?
*Does the length of time we let the MinION run for affect the accuracy of our species identifications?


The goals of this course are to give participants advanced training in field techniques important to the collection of biological samples from Amazonian wildlife, their prey, and their parasites, all the way to sequencing DNA from these sources. The course has the following objectives:

*To engage in both independent and team-based data collection

*To teach sample collection techniques from Amazonian wildlife, with a focus on primates as model megafauna

*To learn sample storage and clean-lab protocols in the field

*To extract DNA in a field laboratory

*To test DNA quality and quantify it

*To run basic PCRs for a range of markers using multiple protocols on field PCR machines (smaller, lighter, lower-scale and more rugged than typical lab-based machines)

*To explore metagenomics in the field using three case studies:

***DNA barcoding of primates and plants

***Microbiome metagenomics of free-ranging and captive primates

***Environmental DNA analyses using 18s screens of eukaryotic DNA in primate fecal samples

Entrance Qualifications:
There are a few simple requirements to determine eligibility for this course:

*You must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the course.

*You must have medical insurance, and provide proof of such insurance to us to complete your reservation.

*We have no citizenship requirements.

*Anyone is welcome to apply. You must obtain visas to Peru independently if necessary.

*You do not need any training in biology; our course is structured to accommodate people from a variety of backgrounds.

*Courses have a maximum capacity of 12 participants. If you are concerned that you will lose your spot, please contact us to confirm how many spots we have left.

Tuition / Fees:
The fee for this course for non-Peruvians is $3200 and must be paid in full 6 weeks after online registration or May 1, 2018, whichever is EARLIER. Peruvians are entitled to take the course for a reduced fee of $1300, but space at this rate is limited to 3 students and will be provided on a first-come-first-serve basis.

The fee includes the following:

*Food and lodging for the entire course.
*Transportation to and from Puerto Maldonado to the field site.
*Experienced instructors and field equipment.
*Access to the field laboratory and ingredients to complete all projects

This course fee does NOT include:

*International travel to Peru.
*Local airfare to Puerto Maldonado
*Travel or health insurance (proof of health insurance is required for course attendance).
*Rubber boots, binoculars, flashlight and insect repellent (all of which are required to take this course).

Support (scholarships, travel):
There are two ways to obtain financial assistance for attending this field course. You may participate in both of these programs simultaneously as follows:

Scholarships: This year, we are offering one scholarship to participate in this class targeting a Peruvian citizen. For the application details, please visit our scholarships page.

Fundraising: FPI can now provide a peer-to-peer crowdfunding platform for all field course students. You will be able to make your fundraising page to share with your contacts and social networks. At the end of the fundraising period of 6 weeks from when you register, FPI will issue a discount code to you for 100% of the funds that you have raised. You would then enter this code as you make your final course payment. If you raise enough to cover all (or part) of your initial reservation fee, you would be refunded that portion as well. Please note that funds raised in excess of your program fees will be rolled into our scholarship fund. Also, if you withdraw from the course at any time, your donors cannot get a refund. In this case, all of those funds would also roll over into our scholarship fund for other students. To set up this option, please register for a course, first, and then contact us at to set up your fundraising page.

Start + End Dates:
July 22 - August 4, 2018

Application Deadline:
May 1, 2018

Contact Information:
Mrinalini Watsa


E-Mail Address:

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