I am very happy to be able to finally announce that I will be returning to Borneo after a 10 year hiatus as part of an NSF Funded research project in collaboration with Jake Esselstyn at LSU! We will survey for small mammals across locations lacking vouchered specimens in order to test if Borneo contains unique areas of endemism (as seen in many other Sundaic islands). This four-year grant will support a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow and molecular technician. Stay tuned for exciting developments!
Welcome to 2023
Well, it has been another embarrassingly long time between posts! Life just keeps getting more and more busy! Lots of new publications (check out that tab) and much more big news on the way, so stay tuned!
Wow how as it been a year since my last post? What has happened in that time you ask? Well on a personal level we welcomed our second daughter to the family in August 2021, and now she's a spunky and fully mobile baby keeping us on our toes. In January 2022 Arlo Hinckley joined my research group and after some weeks excluded from the museum (thanks Omicron..) Arlo has made great progress on lab work on the giant squirrels he is studying.
Proud to share the publication of my first graduate student's first paper! Congrats to Stella Yuan, and Erik Malekos on this publication. Here we describe the patterns of genotyping errors associated with high-throughput sequencing of microsatellites in museum specimens. Find the open access paper here: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12686-021-01213-8
Glad to see this out, and proud of both student co-authors, great job you two!
Where has the time gone?
How has it been so long since my last blog?! I think the past seven months have proceeded at a faster pace than the previous seven. Early on in the pandemic I found days seemingly endless, that coupled with being at home with a toddler who often wanted to 'help mommy work' was challenging, but filled with family time that I will always cherish. Since January 2020 my productivity seems to have increased, and I now feel a bit more on top of the continued telework situation we have at the Smithsonian. In the end of December 2020 a pandemic project I contributed to was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution. This paper looks at a diversity of mammalian teeth, and correlates size to transcript data showing cascading effects on expression leading to teeth size/shape.
Outside of this I've been making steady progress on a variety of projects from my PhD and postdoc, as well as grant applications and finalizing papers with my graduate student. 2021 is already turning out to be more optimistic than 2020 (not a hard bar to reach btw). I have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and am finishing up these long-overdue projects.
While the National Museum of Natural History remains closed, I really hope that in the coming months we will reopen our doors to the public, and more widely to staff. I miss coming in everyday, and look forward to spending a great deal of time in the collections. Until then I'm going to focus on writing and finishing papers, and hopefully getting some funding for additional projects.
This paper was a long time in the making, but I'm very proud of how it turned out! The mountain treeshrew is a very common small mammal in medium-high elevation forests in Borneo. They are generalists and neither climb high in trees nor related to shrews (more closely related to primates!). After two field season sampling along the elevational gradient of Mount Kinabalu and Mount Tambuyukon we mined thousands of UCEs to extract SNPs, where we could look at gene flow across the span of their distribution. Surprisingly we did not recover strong elevational signatures, rather two groups which were found on both mountains, but more diversity was found in the older, smaller Mount Tambuyukon.
Find the early view article here:
Figure 6 from our paper showing a principal component analysis of the SNP data.
Summertime in a pandemic
The weeks have ticked away as we continue to operate on a telework only basis at the Smithsonian. This has given me some time to get back to working on projects initiated during my PhD, and do a lot of writing. I feel as though I'm now adjusted to teleworking, and trying to make as much progress as possible while I have a lot of forced computer time. Stella Yuan, Eric Malekos and myself submitted the first paper of two from the flying squirrel research carried out by Stella at HSU. Our methods paper details how museum specimens perform during microsatellite PCR, and calculate the rates of allelic dropout when using next generation sequencing platforms to genotype microsatellites. Want more? Feel free to read and add comments to our preprint on Authorea: Stella Yuan, Eric Malekos, Melissa Hawkins. Assessing the levels of microsatellite allelic dropout in museum specimens using high-throughput sequencing and genotyping by synthesis. Authorea. May 27, 2020.
Below is a sneak peak into our quality results from tissue, and high and low quality museum specimens.
I hope that everyone out there is staying safe and healthy in these trying times.
Well 2020 has taken about as many turns as could be expected, but that isn't restricted to me, the whole world has come to a screeching halt with the global coronavirus pandemic. After only about two months back at the Smithsonian we shifted to a telework only schedule. Despite the challenges we are all facing I am trying to stay positive, and busy. On April 6th Stella Yuan successfully defended her master's thesis, via Zoom! Below is a picture I took from my end of the Zoom presentation. Stella did an excellent job, which the entire committee agreed on, and we are now working on two publications to submit this spring/summer from that research! Great job Stella!
Happy Darwin Day!
I am officially a day late in posting, but yesterday was Charles Darwin's birthday (February 12, 1809). Yesterday was his 211th birthday. Here at the Natural History Museum we celebrated by posting scientists around the museum at carts deemed the 'Expert is in' to show off some of our favorite specimens to the general public. I naturally brought out a handful of my favorite squirrels, including the adaptive radiation I studied during my doctoral work, the Sulawesi squirrels, as well as the giant Bornean tufted squirrel (Reithrosciurus macrotis), the black-eared squirrel (Nannosciurus melanotis), and the Prevost's squirrel (Callosciurus prevostii). Additionally, I brought out our local southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) and the giant flying squirrel (Petaurista elegans). I had a great time and always enjoy talking to the public about weird squirrels! Happy Birthday Charles!
Back at the Smithsonian!
I've official started at the Smithsonian (NMNH) as curator of mammals. I am currently assessing my research projects and will be starting to look for students with interests in evolutionary systematics and biogeography, particularly for Southeast Asian small mammals. Please send an email if you are interested in joining my research program. Below is a beautiful picture on my walk to the train last night. It is so good to be back!
Missy is a geneticist, and field biologist who enjoys both observing mammals in their natural environment and combining that with DNA detective work.