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University of Alaska Museum Pacific walrus population study

Thousands of specimens housed at the University of Alaska Museum of the North will be used as part of a $1.7 million grant to study long-term and ongoing population trends in the Pacific walrus.

Pacific walrus populationCurator of Mammals Link Olson likens the collection to a “vast library.” The books are the specimens themselves—some thousands of years old—collected over the past century by naturalists, archaeologists, biologists and subsistence hunters.

Olson, together with Tara Fulton from the University of Alberta, will use cutting-edge technology in the museum’s Ancient DNA Lab to extract minute quantities of DNA from walrus specimens going back two millennia, providing insight into the overall genetic health of the species.

The Ancient DNA Lab, built as part of the museum’s expansion, is the only dedicated lab of its kind in the state of Alaska and one of the only ancient DNA labs in a museum in which the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has never been conducted.