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For the past five years, Museum scientists, in collaboration with the Panthera Foundation, a nonproﬁt organization dedicated to protecting big cats in the wild, have been tracking tigers, lions, jaguars, and snow leopards through DNA in scat, or fecal specimens, gathered in the ﬁeld. Now, through a generous grant from the Leslie and Daniel Ziff Foundation, the Global Felid Conservation Genetics Program can accelerate the pace of this important work by expanding the program’s laboratory component.
“We’re very excited about it,” says George Amato, director of the Museum’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics and the Center for Conservation Genetics, which is responsible for sequencing the big cats’ DNA and analyzing the results. “In terms of scale, it is now the largest project of its kind in the world.”
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What if materials in nature could be harnessed to design smarter technologies? Join MIT Professor Angela Belcher at the December 7 SciCafe, Material World: How Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Could Save the Planet, to learn how she creates more efficient technologies in clean energy, electronics, and medical research using materials from nature. Applying biology, engineering, nanotechnology, and materials science to her work, Dr. Belcher has created virus-enabled batteries and more efficient solar cells. Belcher will bring examples of her research to Wednesday’s event, including the first biological battery her team produced as well as a shell of an abalone, a relative of the oyster and the inspiration for many of her projects.
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Over the last few months, an expert team of conservators and Museum artists has led the restoration of the dioramas of the Hall of North American Mammals, which first opened in 1942 and has offered generations of Museum visitors spectacular views of North America’s natural heritage. This is the first in a series of inside looks at the comprehensive restoration and conservation process, which will be completed by fall of 2012.
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While advances in imaging technologies have opened new pathways for scientists to study natural phenomena, researchers continue to make remarkable discoveries using techniques that have been around for decades. John Sparks, associate curator in the Museum’s Department of Ichthyology, uses enzymes and dyes to reveal key anatomical structures in different species of ﬁshes for study of their function and evolution.
Among his study subjects are ponyﬁshes (family Leiognathidae), a group of bioluminescent ﬁshes common in the Indian Ocean and Western Paciﬁc that have a light organ. This internal structure, which varies among ponyﬁsh species, surrounds the esophagus and contains luminescent bacteria, the source of the ﬁsh’s light. The light organ is larger in males, which have a second species-speciﬁc anatomical feature: translucent skin patches, which allow them to use the light organ in displays to attract mates in turbid waters. (Bioluminescent organisms will be explored in the exciting new exhibition Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, which opens at the Museum on March 31, 2012.)