Local citizen scientists map genetics of Darwin’s Galapagos

SAN CRISTOBAL ISLAND, Galapagos (AP) — Five months into the pandemic, things were getting desperate for Robin Betancourt, The tourists he depended upon as a boat captain were unable to visit the Galapagos Islands, whose isolation — 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from the mainland — makes alternative employment hard to find.
It hit him hard when when he couldn’t find a few cents for his 5-year-old daughter Zulyn to buy a pastry.
Then science stepped in.
Betancourt was one of 74 Galapagos residents hired and trained to sample the genetic diversity in the small island chain that famously inspired Charles Darwin in his description of evolution.
“The project was a salvation, but also a challenge,” he said. “I only knew how to turn on the computer to play music; I didn’t know how to operate the thing..”
“Now I’m part of a citizen science project. I’m a citizen scientist, look at that!” he said with a grin.
The Barcode Galapagos Project uses local people to gather, prepare and process tiny samples in DNA sequencing machines set up in three laboratories on the islands.
They search the soil and dip into the sea to collect samples left by the islands’ plant and animal life, from large to microscopic.
The samples are run through the machines to determine short DNA sequences, producing barcode identifiers or fingerprints of thousands of species that can be compared with similar samples from elsewhere across the world.
“We are making a genetic catalog of the biodiversity of the Galapagos. We want to obtain the genetic signature of the species of the Galapagos and quantify the variation of each one due to the geographical isolation in which they are found.,” said Diego Ortiz, manager of the project.
So far, the Charles Darwin Scientific Station has registered 10.659 species — some…
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