Bedford Girls’ School meet Dr Anne Jungblut | The Microverse

Freya Bolton and Emily Stearn, students at Bedford Girls’ School, tell us about their experience of visiting the Museum to meet with the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity team and Dr Anne Jungblut who leads the Microverse project.

On 30 April, we (eleven International Baccalaureate students from Bedford Girls’ School) had the opportunity to come and visit the Natural History Museum, having participated in the Museum’s exciting project ‘The Microverse’. For many of us, despite the fact we’d visited many times previously, we knew this time it was going to be something slightly different, being able to explore the Museum in a new, unique and fascinating light. Having spoken to Jade Cawthray, she kindly agreed to arrange a behind the scenes tour especially for us!

Florin Feneru with a draw of specimens for identification.  Photo credit: Aarti Bhogaita
So much to identify so little time. Florin Feneru with a draw of specimens for identification. Photo credit: Aarti Bhogaita

We were greeted by Lucy Robinson, who explained to us, as we travelled through the Museum, that within there were over 80 million different plant, animal, fossil and mineral specimens. After this, we were introduced to Dr Florin Feneru at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, who confessed that he would receive specimens sent in from thousands of people each year, from the UK and abroad, in the hope that he could identify what exactly they were.

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Next generation DNA sequencing of microorganisms | The Microverse

Advances in DNA sequencing technology are occurring at an incredible speed and Kevin Hopkins is one of the Museum’s Next Generation Sequencing Specialists working with the sequencing technologies used at the Museum to produce relevant data for our Microverse research.

“The challenge is being able to bring together the technology, often developed in biomedical settings, and the samples at the Museum, where limited and often damaged DNA from specimens is the only chance we have of sequencing them. My job involves designing methods that work for our unusual samples, extracting DNA and producing sequencing ready samples from it, and running our MiSeq and NextSeq next generation sequencing platforms.”

Kevin Hopkins is a Next Generation Sequencing Specialist at the Museum
Kevin Hopkins is a Next Generation Sequencing Specialist at the Museum

What is DNA sequencing?

DNA sequencing is the process of reading the order of nucleotide bases (adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine) in a particular strand of DNA. Sequencing can be used for many different applications, such as defining a specific gene or a whole genome. The best way to sequence DNA is in sections; this is because there are a number of challenges to sampling the whole genome of a species in one go.

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Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme: An introduction | Citizen Science

We take a diversion this week from the Microverse and our newest project, Orchid Observers, to introduce one of the projects that wouldn’t get anywhere without the general public reporting sightings, the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP). Cetaceans are the infraorder of marine mammals that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises, and the Museum has been involved in recording their strandings on UK shores for over a century. So it’s over to Rebecca Lyal, Cetacean Strandings Support Officer at the Museum, to introduce the project and what she does as a part of it.

Warning: You may find some of the images that follow upsetting as they are of stranded and injured animals.

The CSIP was created in 1990 to unite the Museum with a consortium of interested parties to formally investigate the stranding of any cetacean, seal, shark and turtle upon the UK coastline. The Museum has actually been recording strandings since 1913 when the Crown granted it scientific research rights for the collection of data on the ‘fishes royal’.

A stranded Cuvier's beaked whale. Photo credit: Department of Environment, Marine Divison, Northern Ireland.
A stranded Cuvier’s beaked whale. Photo credit: Department of Environment, Marine Divison, Northern Ireland.

The first recording was a Cuvier’s beaked whale that stranded in Northern Ireland during the summer of 1913. Since then there have been over 12,000 logged reports of whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings, that have ranged from the mighty blue whale to the common harbour porpoise, and even a rogue beluga whale found in Scotland.

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Blooming beautiful bluebells | UK Wildlife

The rich warbling song of the blackcap has welcomed us into work over the past 2 weeks! (you can hear an Eurasian blackcap, Sylvia atricapilla, as recorded by Patrick Aberg here). Not only that but we’ve had robins nesting just above the threshold of our shed with the accompanying chatter of baby birds anticipating food, holly blue butterflies visiting clusters of fresh holly flowers, sightings of orange tip, brimstone, peacock and speckled wood butterflies, tadpoles in the main pond, the occasional glimpse of a fox cub, and many more signs that Spring has well and truly sprung.

A speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) resting on false brome - one of its larval food plants
A speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) resting on false brome – one of its larval food plants

The mosaic of ground flora throughout the different habitats in the Garden is changing by the day with a particular blue haze and glorious scent of bluebells in the woodland areas.

Bluebells in our Wildlife Garden
Bluebells in our Wildlife Garden

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Welcome to Orchid Observers, our new Citizen Science project | Orchid Observers

A new and exciting citizen science project has begun and it’s time to get involved with Orchid Observers! This research project, in partnership with Oxford University’s Zooniverse platform, aims to examine the flowering times of British orchids in relation to climate change.

In order to achieve this, we are inviting the amateur naturalist and professional botanical community, alongside nature loving citizens from across the country, to help us collect and sort orchid data.

The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is our smallest UK species.
The bog orchid (Hammarbya paludosa) is our smallest UK species. It usually grows on mountain peat bogs and can be found from July to August.

We want you to go out in the field and photograph any of 29 selected UK orchid species and upload your images onto our dedicated website, www.orchidobservers.org. Flowering times from each of your records will then be collated and compared with the extensive Museum herbarium collection, and data from the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI), totalling a 180-year-long time-series of orchid records.

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