Quantitative genetics conservation

Help a young scientist get the MSc she needs to make a difference in conservation

1) Conservation is important.

Ok guys, I’m going to be straightforward about this; conservation is important. We are living in the middle of a great extinction with thousands of animal and plant species going extinct every year due to climate change, poaching, deforestation, and habitat loss. For example, there are less than 70 Amur leopards left in the wild.

Less than 70!

2) This is want I want to devote my life to.

With numbers that low, these cats are at risk of suffering from inbreeding. They are beautiful - just look at them! But more importantly, they are pivotal to their ecosystem along the border of Russia and China. And if we can manage to save the habitat these felines live in, we can protect other species that live in the region, such as the Amur tiger, another critically endangered cat.This is only one case, though; there are thousands of species that are threatened with extinction, and it is my vision to change this.

3) In order to do that, I need an MSc.

This is something I feel so passionate about, I’m willing to devote my life to doing it; not through handing out leaflets or one off drives, but by becoming directly involved in the scientific efforts to bring back these species from the edge of extinction. Simply put, this isn’t something we can do from home on a weekend; I need a plan. I’m going to get an MSc in Quantitative Genetics at the prestigious University of Edinburgh, starting this September. Quantitative genetics forms part of a suite of tools conservation geneticists use to monitor and manage endangered species populations. Conservation geneticists work to find solutions to things like the inbreeding problem for threatened animals. Low levels of variation in endangered species populations is a critical issue for their long-term survival. It’s not always as easy as just breeding more of them; in order to be successful, repopulation of a species needs to be done carefully.

4) Two options; and this is where you come in...

Now, here’s the story: the MSc that provides the tools to allow me to make this difference costs. About $50,000 to be exact. I’m no millionaire; even my BSc required a few loans. So, there are two options open to me to fill the gap between this target and the scholarships and loans that can be scraped together. I can take out a small mortgage in even more loans, complete the program and get my MSc, suffer the back breaking debt of higher education for the rest of my life, and have to focus on paying my way out of the hole. 


5) ...you can really make a difference, to me and the critically endangered species of this world

To the generous people who want to help me make a difference, you can help me raise money to afford the knowledge needed to create effective and lasting conservation plans. I’ll be able to graduate with as little debt as possible and devote my time as a conservation geneticist to the places it’s needed most, and not just where I’ll see a paycheck that covers the interest on my loans. This simple fund will allow me to spend a lifetime working to protect all creatures, great and small, from the horrors of getting a spot in the IUCN’s red list.

I can’t do this alone. I need your help. Although it would be magnificent to cover every bit of the $50,000, I’ve set my goal at the much more modest $5,000, which will help cover the visa, airfare, and accommodation. Every contribution helps take down the behemoth that is tuition costs. Whether it’s $5 or $500, every little bit really does help.

To thank you for your kindness, everyone who donates will, if they choose to provide me with an e-mail address, get a personal, hand-written, thank you-note. For those who donate over $20, I will provide you with monthly updates on my studies while I am at Edinburgh and photos of my graduation ceremony. Finally, for those who give more than $100, once I am a fully-fledged geneticist I will send you updates on how I am working to preserve our precious biodiversity, including any photos of the amazing species I will encounter in the field.  And anything way over $100? Well, send an e-mail and we can talk about it!

For anyone who is interested in conservation, genetics, quantitative genetics, or biology in general, I’d love to chat with you about it! Feel free to send an e-mail about any questions you may have on my work, the plan, whatever! I’m always open for discussion. You can reach me at: [email redacted]

More information:

The science: Genetic analysis allows us to monitor and manage the health of endangered populations, which is essential to successful conservation efforts. An important indicator of the genetic health of a population is its genetic variation. Variation in traits gives a population a better chance of adapting to changing environments; since we are living in a time of rapid climate change, populations need to be very adaptable. My specific interest lies in quantitative genetics (QG), the study of the genetic basis of traits that vary continuously (like height, for example). Many traits in an organism which are important for survival and reproduction are quantitative; despite this, QG has received relatively little attention in conservation genetics. I believe it can be a powerful tool to guide and advise long-term programs. QG can better tells us the amount of variation in ecologically important traits, and can even help us better determine how a population will respond to climate change.  I plan to bring QG to attention in conservation programs. Although still a relatively fledgling tool, I believe it can greatly contribute to the efforts of those who are working tirelessly to save our precious endangered species.

Fig.1 Decreasing rates of biodiversity among four major classses of animals. A downward trend indicates biodoversity loss, i.e., extinction of species. 

Dr. R Frankham on the use of quantitative genetics in conservation

About me: I graduated from the University of Central Florida last December with a BSc in Biology. In my free time, I volunteered at a Birds of Prey rehabilitation center, where I fed and monitored the many raptors that passed through the aviaries. In addition, I worked in a fruit fly genetics lab that aimed to pinpoint the genes responsible for transporting molecules called polyamines from the environment. That amazing experience helped foster my growing interest in the wonders of genetics. As part of a small team, I helped to create a high-throughput assay that could be used to screen housekeeping, candidate genes for their role in the transport system. Moving forward, I plan to start a career that blends my two greatest passions together- combining the scientific finesse of genetics with the raw reality of the wild- as a conservation geneticist.

The program: The University of Edinburgh has given me an unconditional offer to begin study of an MSc in Quantitative Genetics this September. This year-long taught program at this distinguished university is organized by experts in genetics, evolution, and statistics. The MSc is broken into four programs in which one can specialize: the broad-scope Quantitative Genetics & Genome Analysis, and the more focused Evolutionary Genetics, Animal Breeding & Genetics, and Human Complex Traits. I will be studying Evolutionary Genetics in order to better understand how we can bridge the gap between molecular and population genetics. This opportunity cannot be matched by any other university in the world, and I’m very excited to continue my education at such a prestigious institution.

The financing: The cost of  tuition for the MSc is £25,900 GBP. In addition to tuition, I must also consider room and board costs of £8,000, visa fees of £400, and airfare of about £800. This adds up to a whopping £35,100 GBP. Today’s exchange rates place this over $50,000 USD. I will be chipping away at this through my part time job at the local zoo, and all the bursaries and scholarships I’m entitled to apply for. In order to achieve this goal in the few short months before the course begins, I really do need your help to make a difference in this world.
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Pascale Lubbe 
Plant City, FL
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