Recently, Malaysian herpetologist Juliana Senawi puzzled over an unfamiliar orange-striped, yellow-speckled frog she’d live-caught in swampland on the Malay Peninsula. She showed the frog to Chan Kin Onn, a fellow herpetologist pursuing his doctorate at the University of Kansas. They wondered—was this striking frog with an appearance unlike others nearby in the central peninsula an unidentified species?
Extensive genetic analysis performed in the lab of Rafe Brown, curator of herpetology at KU’s Biodiversity Institute, would determine whether the Malaysian frog was indeed new to science—genetically distinct from its doppelgänger on Siberut Island. “The lab is very high-tech and is able to run a number of different types of genetic analyses,” Chan said. “It’s also able to run the latest in cutting-edge genetic analysis called Next Generation Sequencing, which a lot of researchers are currently utilizing. We also have a very powerful bioinformatics lab that can analyze extremely large and computationally expensive datasets. The great thing about the lab is that we have the equipment and expertise to run everything from initial DNA extractions to the final data analyses without having to rely on any outsourcing.”
When testing was complete, the first hunch of the Malaysian team proved right: “Sure enough, results from Rafe’s genetic analysis showed that the frog from Peninsular Malaysia was genetically too distant from the Siberut Island Frog to be considered the same species, so we decided to describe it as a new species.”