Uniting museum collections with cutting-edge DNA technology

The mission of the Moore Laboratory of Zoology is to answer outstanding questions about the origins of biodiversity and how species respond to environmental change by linking information from the habitats and genomes of species with physical specimens in our collection. The Moore Lab contains 65,000 specimens, mostly bird study skins, with a strong focus on Mexico and Latin America. The vast majority of the specimens were collected from 1933 to 1955 by Chester C. Lamb as he traversed Mexico under the direction of Robert T. Moore, whose goal was to describe the poorly known birdlife south of the U.S. border. These specimens are now a snapshot in time from before pristine habitats were destroyed for logging and agriculture.

The genomics laboratory of Moore Lab curator John McCormack has unlocked the genomic potential of the collection by developing protocols that allow for the extraction and processing of DNA from specimens as old as the 1800s. Occidental undergraduates are incorporated into all aspects of the research. Published in peer-reviewed papers, results of the research are revealing how changes to the Earth led to the origin of species -- and are even uncovering new species that had been overlooked prior to the existence of DNA data.

 

For more information, contact Moore Lab Director John McCormack.