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Genomics: The New Frontier

A recap of the 2017 spring Conservation Immersion Seminar
  • A scientist wearing a blue latex glove points to samples in plastic bags on a lab table
    Non-invasive DNA extraction. Scientists can learn a lot about an animal without even seeing it. They can extract DNA from feces, hair or even from the environment—water and soil where the animal has been.
  • A group of scientists from the Center for Conservation Genomics stand posing for a photo
    Center for Conservation Genomics lab team
  • A woman gives a presentation to a small group of people. A slide projected behind her reads: This is only the beginning
    Keynote speaker and author Beth Shapiro explains how genomics can help identify and understand fragmented populations of mountain lions, and how that information informs conservation management.
  • A lab table with some beakers of liquid and samples of hair, bones and fecal matter from various animals
    DNA can be extracted from bone, hair, feces, blood, etc., allowing scientists to use biological samples to determine relatedness, population size and health.
  • A man points at an easel during a presentation to a small group of people.
    Bioinformatitician Michael Campana explains how genomics is used to understand the relationship among canids—the relatives of a favorite family pet, the domestic dog.

On May 10, inquiring minds spent a day with Smithsonian scientists at the fourth annual Conservation Immersion Seminar—Genomics: The New Frontier. The seminar was held at the Zoo’s Rock Creek Science Building where participants learned how genomics can be applied to conservation, saw DNA sequencing first-hand and deciphered pedigree charts.

At this exclusive event, FONZ members and donors explored how scientists from the Center for Conservation Genomics are applying new technology to help save species.

“We thoroughly enjoyed the program and learned a lot in a short amount of time!” - Karen Brown, Circle of Life Member, Smithsonian Legacy Society Member

Genomics is the study of the genome—the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell. So, how does genomics help scientists save cheetahs, manage endangered herd animals or determine the evolutionary history of a small tropical bird like the red siskin?

Smithsonian experts broke down the many ways in which genomics supports conservation work, such as understanding the roles of different genes, identifying markers for disease, assessing the genetic diversity or health of a population and examining how a comprehensive pedigree or family tree can inform breeding management—just to name a few!

Conservation Immersion Seminars provide unprecedented access to world-renowned scientists. Attendees have the opportunity to engage in in-depth discussions and hands-on sessions about modern conservation issues and the cutting-edge science being implemented to help save species and their habitats.

We are excited to announce that the series has been extended, and the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute will be hosting an additional seminar this October.

To learn more about the upcoming seminar and how you can participate, contact Molly Dodge at or 540-635-0071.