Image owned by Zoo de la Palmyre.
It isn’t many people who can say they’ve extracted DNA from monkey poo. Yesterday I was able to add my name to that list. You see, at my job (my job that isn’t related to knitting), I’m often extracting DNA from poo, as well as blood, urine, nasal and tracheal fluids, and sometimes cerebral spinal fluid. Almost all of it is from dogs and cats, to the point where I believed I would only ever be working with fluids from dogs and cats. Then yesterday I received a tiny orange vial labeled “pied tamarin (and the zoo it came from)” with a species of “MK” (“C” is canine or dog, and “F” is feline or cat, you see).
I was like, “species MK, what’s that?” Turns out it’s monkey, or pied tamarin in this case. There may only be one species of domestic dog or cat, but there are many, many species of monkey.
So what do I do with this DNA once I’ve extracted it? Well, I work for a veterinary diagnostics company, which means when a vet wants a test done for an animal (like the very generic “blood work” or “culture test”), it comes to a company like mine. We then carry out the test(s), interpret them, and give the results to the vet.
My part in all of this is I’m what’s known as a PCR Technician, that is I carry out what’s known as Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR. Basically, I receive a fluid from an animal – the type depending on what’s wrong with the animal, so if the vet suspects a blood borne illness I’ll receive the blood. I then extract and purify the DNA from that fluid – i.e. collect all the DNA from all the organisms that are in the fluid, be they cat cells or bacterial cells or viruses or what not. Then I use PCR to check to see if DNA exists from a list of pathogenic organisms (the kinds that cause sickness) that we test for.
So, if a dog has lyme disease, say, I’m able to use this technique to see that the bacterium that causes lyme disease is currently present in the blood. I then inform the system which informs the vet that the bacterium is present who can then take further steps to treat the disease. I do this for generally around 100 samples a day – that is 100 animals a day. It’s a very clinical and grueling job where I don’t have any contact with the animals at all and generally don’t have to think about what a positive diagnosis for a deadly disease can mean (though that’s pretty rare, even at 100 animals a day).
It’s nice to think that I’m able to have a mostly positive impact a the lives of a lot of pets. It’s really cool to know that I can (very rarely) have that same impact on an exotic animal like a pied tamarin. Makes the fact that I’m not knitting while doing it just a little more tolerable.