Museum specimens to the rescue!

100-year-old specimens at California museum help determine when avian pox hit Galapagos

The research team, led by Dr. Patricia Parker of the University of Missouri–St. Louis, examined 3,607 finches and mockingbirds collected in the Galapagos between 1898 and 1906 that are currently held at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, along with 266 birds collected in 1891 and 1897 held at the Zoologische Staatssammlung in Munich, Germany. The scientists inspected the birds for skin lesions associated with avian pox infection and found 226 candidates dating from 1898 or later. For a small subset of these (59 specimens), the scientists took tissue samples for further pathological studies. In the end, a total of 21 specimens scored positive for avipoxvirus using histology (tissue examination under a microscope) and genotyping (screening for viral DNA).

“Without museum collections, work like this would never be possible,” said Dr. Jack Dumbacher, Curator of Ornithology at the California Academy of Sciences.

How cool is that?  ”Gee, where can we find an extensive, tagged, notated, and well-preserved set of 100-year old birds?  HMMMM…”

(cross-posted to Tumblr:  Museum specimens to the rescue!)

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