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Are invasive traits mediated by molecular epigenetic mechanisms?

Holly Kilvitis, University of South Florida, writes:

In May 2013, I participated in a research exchange at the University of Texas at Austin to work in Dr. Steven Phelps’ laboratory. The goal of this research exchange was to sequence the promoter region of the house sparrow (Passer domesticus) and zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) Toll-like receptor 4 gene. During my 10 day visit, I worked closely with one of Dr. Phelps’ graduate students, Alejandro Berrio, to learn the various techniques associated with gene sequencing. I learned how to develop PCR primers using Genious software, set up PCR reactions and gel electrophoresis, and how to analyze sequencing results using various software programs. Using primers designed for zebra finches, we were successful at amplifying and sequencing a 1kb segment of the TLR4 promoter in house sparrows. I now have the tools and knowledge needed to continue this sequencing work in my own lab. Once I have sequenced the rest of the promoter region, I hope to run a DNA methylation assay called qAMP to determine whether traits associated with invasiveness are mediated by molecular epigenetic mechanisms. This research experience at UT Austin was not only invaluable to my technical/laboratory skills, but it was also an amazing opportunity to collaborate with students and professors from another lab.