Training in CCF’s Genetics Lab – A Dream Come True!
- by Benny Munyandi September 14, 2020
In 11th grade, I realized I understood science better than any other subject. This created in me a great interest in pursuing a science-related field. After completing high school, I decided to apply for the Bachelor of Science course at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, majoring in Biology.
I always wondered how our bodies function. My first year of University brought joy to me, as I realized that I will one day get the answers to these wonders. I was taught by good, caring professors, who oriented my focus to Genetics and Biotechnology. As part of my course, it was required of me to complete an internship. Having gained much theoretical knowledge, I wanted a platform to practically apply this knowledge. The Cheetah Conservation Fund Genetics Laboratory became this platform when they offered me a 6 month internship.
After working on my degree for 3 years in the city, it was my dream to do my practical training on a remote farmland far from the city life. For this reason, my internship at CCF was a dream come true. Being part of a very equipped facility that is very far from town was priceless. I knew right away that by the end of my internship, I will carry with me new skills in genetics, my field of interest.
During my early days in the lab, I met the good people of the genetics team, who helped me familiarize myself with different equipment and the lab rules. After a few weeks, I started participating in lab work. I helped with many different projects on cheetah population structure, individual identification, and relatedness. I also assisted with other lab work like sample sorting. I was very fortunate to learn how to extract DNA from scat samples using Qiagen kit, amplify the DNA using the thermocyler machine, and for the first time, analyzed the results using my favorite unique machine, the 3130 genetic analyzer. This machine with the help of markers reads the DNA sequences and forms peaks, which we call alleles.
For my individual project, I was assigned the Wild Boy’s Project, which is a long-term project focusing on two wild cheetahs named Sam and HIFI (after our previous Namibian presidents) that used to spend time close to CCF’s Research and Education Centre. This project started in 2013, when CCF staff began collecting and storing the scat from these two cheetahs. The project has two primary aims; to extract DNA, and analyze the samples using microsatellite markers to determine the individual; the second is to use this project to test sample storage, or to test how long scat samples can be stored and still be able to give very good quality DNA results.
CCF is a very diverse community with so much to do and learn. When not in the lab, I do general tasks, where I help care (feeding and cleaning their surroundings) for CCF’s non-releasable cheetahs and livestock guarding dogs. When I’m on general tasks, I also help enter education outreach data from student surveys for the Education Department. This is always fun because some students have very good knowledge on cheetahs, and this always cheers me up.
Apart from work, CCF is a good place for physical fitness and social interaction. I work out with my friends every day after work. Workouts include weight lifting, soccer, and jogging. I find this to be a fun way of relieving stress. “It’s good for your inside” as one of my friends would always say.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, life at CCF is pretty normal. My days are spent helping to save cheetahs, and the nights I relax with friends over a bonfire, board game, or movie. I also get to teach one of my international friends here at CCF one of the Oshiwambo languages – this has been a very treasured experience for both of us. I’m truly enjoying my time at CCF – living with wildlife around me, going on night drives, hiking up one of the hills, watching huge flocks of birds flying over while we eat dinner, and participating in waterhole counts. I’m learning a lot about the sciences, and learning to work in a culturally and professionally diverse environment. I am definitely taking this training and experience here at CCF and using it to propel me to become one of Namibia’s young scientists.
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