Samples, stories, and pictures from a successful trip

Lab Note #1
Apr 03, 2015

(KC and collaborator, John Hawley, with the Kalinago council after reaching an agreement)

Since reaching our fundraising goal we have made great progress in the search for the East Asian skin color gene. We spent the first half of 2014 planning for the trip (double, triple, quadruple checking approvals and equipment packing lists), and the second of the part of the year sampling.


(A plaque we presented to former Chief Garnett Joseph to thank him for his support)

Finally, in the fall of 2014 we made it to Dominica for a total of 6 weeks. With many thanks to the local nurses that accompanied us in our sampling, we managed to collect 464 samples. This is only slightly short of our goal (500 samples) and should be sufficient to move forward, a great success! We're particularly excited that several large, multigenerational families participated in our study, which will help us to understand how skin color genes are inherited. Now that sampling is complete, we are back at the lab bench hunting for candidate genes.


(Nurse Patsy warding off dogs with her trusty blue umbrella and accompanying us on home visits)

An interesting side project spurred from our sampling discovery that the community has a high rate of albinism. Albinism comes with some physical challenges such as sensitivity to light, but these people face additional challenges from living in a sunny, tropical climate. We managed to collect saliva samples from all the albinos living in the territory, which we will use to find the mutation responsible for albinism amongst the Kalinago people. Knowing this will help people by knowing if they are a carrier of the gene, and should take extra precautions with the sun.


(Another day of field work, the haphazard field station)

Over the next two months, we hope to publish our first manuscript about the skin color of the Kalinago people. We have checked for European ancestry in the Kalinago by sequencing the two most pervasive European skin color mutations. Currently we are reviewing and analyzing these sequencing results and planning for the second phase of sequencing.


(Fancy traditional Kalinago home)

During our 6-week stay in Dominica, we drove and hiked all through the territory and meet some of the oldest Kalinago who shared incredible stories of their community. One couple had 24 children, two of whom became chief of the territory. Another elder, one of the first Kalinago parliamentarians, is a signatory of the Dominica Declaration of Independence.


(The breathtaking views are never ending, and never get old)

During our stay, we participated in the community health fair, where we helped the nurses and environmental officer in explaining and educating the community about the danger of mosquito-born diseases such as dengue and chikungunya. It's nice to know that we can contribute to the community since they help us by volunteering to participate in our research!


(Nurse Francis taking cover with a grandmother and her granddaughter, dressed in traditional attire for the Creole festival)

A few fun things we learned while working in Dominica:

  • Dominica has as many rivers as days in the year!
  • Traditionally, the Kalinago believed that having their picture taken could capture their soul.
  • In Dominica, the sound of a conch shell being blown like a horn announces the catch-of-the-day. Fishermen's fresh fish is sold from the back of a moving truck that slowly drives through the territory, stopping for interested patrons that come to the street at the sound of the conch!
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