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ReGeneC, La Red Latinoamericana de Genética para la Conservación (or in English, The Latin American Conservation Genetics Network), was born in 2004 with a main goal: to advance the science and practice of conservation genetics in a region facing enormous conservation challenges and yet insufficient capacity in any one country to train the local scientists needed to take up these challenges. To address this problem, we built an annual, intensive course, offered 15 times thus far, in either Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Brazil, or Argentina. Thirty- eight different professors have volunteered their time to teach more than 340 students from 21 countries across the region. While technologies and analyses have come and gone, ever-shifting the content of our lectures and computer labs, our core emphasis has remained unchanged and unique among similar courses worldwide: a central focus on students developing their own research projects, in their own languages, through in-depth one-on-one discussions with those professors with most experience in their project areas. Follow ReGeneC on Twitter @ReGeneC or via their website.
XV Latin American Workshop on Conservation Genetics: Preserving genetic diversity in the age of genomics, co-organized by ReGeneC and the Chilean institutions IBASE and CHIC, was held in Puerto Williams, the southernmost city of the South American continent, from November 25 to December 5, 2022 (Figure 1). This was the first workshop held at the installations of Centro Subantártico Cabo de Hornos, located in the Region of Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica. It was also the first ReGeneC workshop that combined online classes, where some theoretical aspects of the course were addressed, with eleven days of face-to-face activities. In addition to completing other theoretical aspects, the workshop featured practical sessions of data analysis, analysis of case studies, and discussion of the projects of the 22 participants, this last activity being the most relevant and valued by the attendees of the previous workshops.
“The students broaden their view of science and the possibilities for their work. Some come up with ideas but without conservation aspects and during the workshop, they see that they can incorporate some conservation inside their project. In scientific terms, I think this is the most important thing” said Dr. Cristina Y. Miyaki, an academic at the University of São Paulo, also a professor and co-founder of ReGeneC.
“These workshops are very different from others because we not only want to provide new knowledge through lectures, but we also want each student to receive advice and guidance for the execution of their projects. At the end of the course, they not only leave with new knowledge, they leave with their project improved and prepared to face the challenge of their thesis,” said Dr. Elie Poulin, Director of Millennium Institute BASE, and researcher at the University of Chile, and also a professor of the Conservation Genetics Workshop since the first edition.
“Throughout fifteen editions of the workshops organized by ReGeneC more than 300 students have been trained, many of them are now professors in different Latin American academic institutions and I think the influence is very positive, all these people go back to their laboratories, talk about the workshop and train others,” expressed Dr. Daniel Ruzzante, Dalhousie University academic, also a professor of the Conservation Genetics Workshop since 2009.
40% of the projects presented by the participants use advanced genomics and bioinformatics techniques to answer their research questions, revealing the rise of these new techniques in projects seeking to propose solutions to biodiversity conservation problems in Latin America. Five of these projects will evaluate plant species, two will focus on plants of commercial interest (Capsicum spp. or chili pepper in Bolivia, and Vanilla spp. or vanilla in Costa Rica), while the other three projects will focus more on the definition of Conservation Units for threatened conifer species, “treeline” species and endemic cacti in the ecosystems of the Atacama Desert and the Southern Andean Cordillera. The remaining 17 projects were aimed at studying animal species, of which five involved insect species (a group little studied in the field of conservation genetics); one project evaluated an aquatic invertebrate species of commercial interest; five projects involved both pelagic and freshwater fish species as a research model; two projects studied seabird species; and four projects evaluated mammal species (three terrestrial species and one marine dolphin species).
“The experience of having participated in ReGeneC was very enriching, from an academic and human point of view. I think the most important point of the course is that the professors get involved with the projects and help us to improve. In addition, the dynamic that occurs with them and with colleagues allows us to generate new networks and also to learn about the different problems that occur in Latin America,” said Dra. Tatiana Kasinsky, a postdoctoral fellow of CONICET – Argentina, and participant in the XV Latin American Workshop on Conservation Genetics
Participants in XV ReGeneC workshops were from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Uruguay. As part of the Conservation, ethics, and society unit, they had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Omora Ethnobotanical Park, a scientific research, education, and conservation center, considered a “natural laboratory” of the biological diversity of the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, whose species are the southernmost in the world (Figure 2). Participants were also able to learn about the objectives of the American Genetic Association directly from Anjanette Baker, assistant to the general council, through a video conference (Figure 3).
The XV ReGeneC workshop was made possible thanks to the invaluable sponsorship of the American Genetic Association (AGA) and the United Nations University Regional Biotechnology Program for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNU-BioLAC), whose support allowed all participants to receive travel and living allowances, as well as to cover some of the expenses of various speakers. The Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity (IEB), the National Agency for Research and Development (ANID) of the Cape Horn International Center (CHIC), and the Millennium Institute of Biodiversity of Antarctic and Subantarctic Ecosystems (BASE) were the local coordinating and sponsoring institutions.