WATCH: The glamour of genomics fieldwork
Whenever I tell people about my fieldwork experiences – studying stalk-eyed flies in the rainforests of Malaysia – I think they get visions of some glorious, glamorous expedition into the unknown. Probably involving pith helmets and khaki shorts. The reality was living and working in a two-room wooden hut riddled with geckos and insect larvae; braving Jurassic Park style downpours to fire up the generator so that we could have light for our microscopes at night; and trekking through the jungle at night to collect flies and praying that in your sleep- and calorie- deprived state you didn’t haplessly blunder into a two metre-long pit viper.
Recently phylogenomicist Joe Parker opened a window on the glamour of sequencing genomes in the field, in a tent, on a rainy hill side in Snowdonia (a mountainous region of north Wales). Joe and his colleague Alex Papadopulos were sequencing genomes from the plant Arabidopsis petraea, as part of their research for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and shared a short video of their soggy adventure on YouTube.
Putting all jokes about the glamour of field work aside, only a few years ago this makeshift tent lab would have been beyond many scientists’ wildest dreams. Crouching in a muddy stream bed in 2011, carefully collecting flies into Eppendorf tubes full of ethanol to transport back to the lab in London, the notion of being able to collect genetic information in situ was inconceivable and with hindsight could have completely changed the nature of the work I was doing. Thinking about the questions that I could ask now, the data I could collect only a few years later, gets me yearning for a bit of field time again, snakes and all. Smaller sequencing tech is really starting to open up some very big research frontiers.
More on these topics