How does one get into this field?

“My name is Sean and I am a first year biology major with an emphasis in wildlife biology. Ever since I was a kid learning about the reintroduction of wolves as a keystone species I have made it my goal to work my way into the field of conservation biology. Recently I have started researching the idea of de-extinction, where I stumbled across Stewart’s TED Talk, as well as the TEDxDeExtinction videos, truly sparking my interest in getting involved with this new cutting-edge field.  I was wondering if you had any suggestions or ideas on ways I could become involved with this ground breaking field?”

So here’s my advice….
— Ben Novak

In your undergrad years study the following: genetics, ecology, molecular ecology, paleontology/paleoecology, bioinformatics – really delve into bioinformatics, molecular biology and cellular biology.

Any real lab experience you can get in biotech and genetics early will be invaluable.

But most importantly – understand the organism you’re interested in. De-extinction may not be a fully fledged field when you get to grad school. Any de-extinction project requires genome sequencing to genome synthesis to cloning and beyond. A lot of supporting projects need to happen – cross species cloning testing, surrogate parent behavior modification, ecosystem analysis – etc. Basic population biology and paleo-ecology of your animal is the real foundation – studying how gene frequencies changed over time in your animal as it went extinct, getting to know the actual population structure – all these things will ultimately feed how you recreate the organism and how you put it back in the wild.

One thing you could do as an undergrad would be to try and do some gene sequencing of an extinct organism as an undergrad thesis – the prices are dropping so much you may be able to get some funding for it. An extinct animals genome right now will cost between 8-10,000 dollars to generate – this is assuming the need for 4 illumina lanes of data (2500 dollars each). For prepping a skin sample a Qiagen DNeasy tissue kit protocol using PN buffer rather than PB buffer works for DNA extraction (the PN buffer is found in the Qiagen Nucleotide Removal kit). Bone samples require a little more custom prep.

Right now there are a host of organisms having their genomes sequenced – this makes a huge array of reference maps to assemble ancient DNA to. Here is just a small set of genomes being worked on –

Any extinct animal related to these species can now have it’s genome sequenced much easier than before. In truth – you don’t even need to shoot for a full genome. You could put about 5-10 samples on a single lane (2500) and potentially get enough DNA sequences for the full mitochondrial genome of all the samples – and with those you have the beginnings of a population genetics project. DNA prep for 10 samples would be about $500.