Genomics in the Jungle – India | Field Projects International
 

Genomics in the Jungle – India

Course Description

Biological research is turning to genetic research methods for a more in-depth look into the factors that encode behavior and physiology. Today, we use genetic techniques to determine species delimitations, define populations, understand mating systems, explain behavioral differences in foraging efficiency, screen for diseases, conduct paternity studies, evaluate immune status and functioning, and explore microbiome diversity. And these are just a few examples of the full breadth of the field as applied to wildlife biology. 

In the past few years, we have witnessed the successful deployment of instruments that have enabled molecular work to take place ‘on-the-fly’ and in the field. These new tools are minimizing the hassles and barriers associated with transporting biological samples around the world to distant labs that possess the equipment and resources to extract, amplify, and sequence DNA. In many ways, this new technology is democratizing wildlife research by empowering field scientists all around the world with the genetic tools to directly advance their research and conservation initiatives.

In this course, we will utilize a portable field molecular biology laboratory in the rainforests of the Western Ghats of Kerala, India. We will examine how to conduct field research, collect samples, and extract, amplify, and sequence them. Finally, we will interpret genetic data to answer several practical research questions featured in the following case studies on wildlife ecology and natural history: wildlife forensics, eDNA screening, biodiversity screening via micro-predator blood meals. 

This course will take place at forest hill station by the name of Fringe Ford, a location with no dedicated laboratory infrastructure.  That is right; participants will be working with a FULLY MOBILE molecular laboratory. This course will focus on training next-generation biologists, ecologists, and conservationists.  Participants will acquire the practical know-how to employ genetic research tools in the field and obtain answers in real-time.

Video from the first Genomics in the Jungle field course in the Peruvian Amazon

Research Case Studies 

We will focus on areas in which cutting-edge molecular techniques can help us solve mysteries common to wildlife research and conservation efforts across the planet. We will work from only opportunistically collected noninvasive or unprotected invertebrate samples to assist in building a reference DNA library for this site. 

Class size and time permitting, the three case studies we hope to complete are:

  1. Wildlife forensics: from noninvasive, opportunistic sampling of wildlife at Fringe Ford
  2. Diversity assessments through eDNA
  3. Biodiversity monitoring via micro-predator blood meals 

In the course of these projects we will  attempt to answer a few additional questions with all case studies:

  • Can we use the What’s In My Pot (WIMP) workflow to accurately classify the taxa in these case studies?
  • To what extent can we increase our efficiency by multiplexing samples and even projects on a single flow cell?
  • Can we effectively wash a flowcell and then use it for an entirely different purpose (AKA two experiments for the price of one)?
  • How long does the MinION need to run to minimize sequencing error?

Course Details

  • Highlights
  • Course Objectives
  • Research Case Study 1: Wildlife Forensics
  • Research Case Study 2: eDNA Biodiversity Assessments
  • Research Case Study 3: Micropredator Bloodmeal Assesment
  • Faculty
  • Eligibility
  • Documents
  • Food & Lodging
  • Travel
  • Program Costs & Student Aid
  • Testimonials

Explore one of India’s three biodiversity hotspots – the Western Ghats. 

Observe native and often threatened animal species during safari tours of Nagarhole National Park

Try following three elusive primate species to non-invasively collect biological samples for DNA analyses

Put together a bioinformatics pipeline for DNA barcoding and diversity research

Take investigations conducted on this course all the way through to publication

Meet other aspiring scientists and conservationists like yourself (Our programs enroll participants from many stages in their careers)

Collect, preserve, extract, amplify, visualize, clean-up, prep, and sequence DNA from several specimens.

Observe migrant and endemic bird species at Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, and explore the zoo in Mysore, the ancient capital of Karnataka and home of the Wodeyar Dynasty

Stay on after the field course and visit iconic sites in India. 

The broad goals of this course are to give participants advanced training in field techniques important to the collection of biological samples from wildlife, their prey, and their parasites, all the way to sequencing DNA from these sources. The course has the following specific objectives:

  • To engage in both independent and team-based data collection

  • To teach sample collection techniques from invertebrates to megafauna

  • To learn sample storage and clean-lab protocols tailored for fieldwork

  • To extract DNA in a portable field laboratory

  • To test DNA quality and quantify it

  • To run basic PCRs for a range of markers using multiple protocols (smaller, lighter, lower-scale and more rugged than typical lab-based instruments)

  • To explore metagenomics in the field using case studies

  • To involve all participants in the publication of all data collected on the field course.

In 1986, the first criminal was captured by DNA fingerprinting, a process developed at the University of Leicestershire in the UK. Semen stain samples from two murders were collected and matched to the same perpetrator. An innocent man accused of the crimes was exonerated, and the real culprit caught. Since then, forensic DNA research has revolutionized the way crime scenes are processed, and biological samples screened. But DNA forensics is not restricted to human applications alone. You can DNA fingerprint anything, and one way in which we do so in wildlife biology is to use barcode databases.

In this case study, we will noninvasively collect samples from a variety of sources (feces, hair, discarded skin, molts, etc.) and use existing DNA databases to identify specimens down to the smallest possible taxonomic unit. To do this, we will amplify several DNA markers from each sample, and compare sequences obtained in the field with online reference databases.

Laboratory Skills: Sample collection, sample storage, sterile handling technique, DNA extraction, PCR amplification, gel electrophoresis, DNA clean-up and library preparation, sequencing on the MinION, and real-time species identification with the WIMP workflow.

Almost everyone will agree that biodiversity is a good indicator of environmental health and that the overwhelming trend worldwide is unfortunately to see a decline in biodiversity. However, measuring diversity is not easy. It involves answering a range of difficult questions like which plant or animal groups should be assessed, if measurements in one location comparable to those from another, and how often these measures can be feasibly made?

In this case study, we will measure biodiversity from environmental samples, assessing both prokaryotic communities using universal 16S rRNA markers and eukaryotic diversity using 18S rRNA markers. We will explore how fast, efficient, and replicable this technique is across sites and over time. Even better, as more bacterial and eukaryotic sequences are deposited to publicly accessible databases, these analyses will become increasingly sensitive and informative. This is an extremely valuable case study for the field station and translates into a powerful skill that participants will exercise in the future.

Laboratory Skills: Experiment design, eDNA sample collection and storage, sterile technique, DNA extraction, 16S and 18S rRNA PCR amplification, gel electrophoresis, DNA clean-up, and library preparation, sequencing on the MinION, and OTU calling, OTU mapping to reference database, and data summary.

Some of the most impressive and charismatic animals that exist today are also elusive and difficult to monitor. Today people use pug mark traps, camera traps, drones, scat detection dogs, passive bioacoustic monitoring, and mark and recapture techniques, among others, to monitor wildlife populations. All of these techniques are indispensable to today’s research and conservation efforts, but they are costly, time-consuming, and don’t always provide enough data to confidently determine that a species is present or not, let alone if its population is stable.

Enter the micro-predators; those pesky, annoying, bite-sized, heat-seeking missiles that we regard as more of a nuisance than anything else. In this case study, we will take advantage of the leech’s indefatigable mission to consume blood from endothermic animals.  By collecting blood-fed leaches, we should be able to detect signals of the host animals that they have fed on for up to four months after they have had a meal, according to recent studies. We’ll amplify host DNA using both COI and Cytb mitochondrial DNA markers.

Skillsets: Experiment design, invertebrate sample collection and storage, sterile technique, DNA extraction, PCR amplification, gel electrophoresis, DNA clean-up and library preparation, sequencing on the MinION, and real-time species identification with the WIMP workflow.

Gideon Erkenswick co-founded Primates Peru Inc. in 2009 which later evolved into Field Projects International. Cumulatively, he has spent eight years working in the Neotropics leading research programs in primate behavior, disease ecology, and mark and recapture, and for the past four years, he has also taught field courses in general tropical biology and primate behavior. Between 2011 and 2017 he completed a doctorate in biology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) that focused on parasite-host relationships from a diverse community of nonhuman primates using molecular genetics and genomics.  At UMSL he also acquired formal classroom teaching experience in anatomy and physiology, comparative vertebrate anatomy, evolution, and organismal biology. In addition to his role as a Senior Research Scientists for FPI and founder of the Green Lab, he continues in the UMSL Biology Department as a post-doctoral researcher.

Visit his full profile here or his website.

Mrinalini (Mini) Watsa began a love affair with the rainforest in the backyard of her home in India, virtually overrun with cobras, chameleons and even jackals. She has a Ph.D. in biological anthropology, with a specialization in molecular genetics of vertebrates. She has managed a ten-year mark-recapture program with wild primates in Peru, and run both university and field molecular genetics laboratories in the US and Peru. Today, she splits her time between being a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Missouri St. Louis, instructing courses on tropical field biology through FPI, and running the Green Lab.  

Visit her full profile here or explore her website

Stefan Prost joins the FPI team as the bioinformatician for this field course. His experience covers comparative genomics, paleogenomics and genome architecture at Stanford University as a postdoctoral researcher. But Stefan has experience outside of the lab as well – he joined co-instructor Aaron Pomerantz last year in sequencing using the MinION under field conditions in the Ecuadorian rainforest.   

Visit his full profile here.

There are a few simple requirements to determine eligibility for this course:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age at the time of the course.
  • You must have medical insurance, and provide proof of such insurance to us to complete your reservation.
  • We have no citizenship requirements. Anyone is welcome to apply. You must obtain visas to India independently if necessary.
  • You do not need any training in biology – our course is structured to accommodate people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Courses have a maximum capacity of 12 participants. If you are concerned that you will lose your spot, please contact us to confirm how many places we have left.
  • Students applying for the Indian course rate are capped at a maximum of 3 for this course.

  • Course readings: Reading list to be announced in October.  These are intended to foster better comprehension and discussion of course topics and should be read ahead of the course start date. 
  • Download the syllabus: HERE
  • Download our Sexual and Gender-Based Policy: HERE
  • Download our Student Policy Manual: HERE

Breakfasts will be provided at your hotel while in Mysore and Bangalore.  However, lunches and dinners in Mysore and Bangalore will not be covered by the program. We do this to avoid conflict when it comes to eating since people have very different ideas of what constitutes a good meal. Meals are very affordable; e.g., a very fancy dinner at a very nice restaurant will cost ~$10. All other meals can be purchased for much less than that amount. You will thus be responsible for approximately 3 or 4 meals during the travel days of the course. Scholarship students – all your food will be covered by the course, including meals in Bangalore and Mysore.

At the field station, Fringe Ford, all meals are covered for everyone. You will be provided with three meals each day – breakfast (~8:30 am), lunch (~1:30 pm) and dinner (~ 8:30 pm). These meals are healthy and will fill you up, but this being the middle of the rainforest, don’t expect to get all your food groups represented in the same way you try to eat while you are at home. If you are concerned, take a multi-vitamin while at the field station. The field station is lucky to have a fabulous cook, who can make the most incredible dishes with basic and wholesome ingredients. The food will be traditional Indian food from Kerala – this includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options and specialties like appams and fish curries from the region. Vegetarians never have a problem in India, and have plenty of options. Being vegan or gluten-free at this field site is not recommended.

You will also have access to tea and coffee during the day, as and when you wish to have some (while you are at camp). If you think you will do better with cliff bars or other snacks, please bring some for yourself. Any additional treats you bring (like energy bars or chocolate) will be fair game for a lot of small rainforest creatures. So, bring plenty of ziplock bags in which to place your food and avoid leaving wrappers in your rooms containing anything at all edible because that will attract some curiosity from miniature wildlife.

Air travel: Getting to India from a different country is accomplished primarily by air. We recommend using Kayak, Orbitz or Expedia to book your flights online. Please do NOT book flights until November 1 for this course.

The course will be held from December 29th to the January 11th, 2018. This means that you should plan to arrive in Bangalore, India on December 29th or by 9an on the 30th.  US residents, due to the time difference, you could have to leave home as early as the morning of December 28th to arrive on time. Please keep this in mind while booking your flights.

Your return flight should depart from Bangalore anytime on January 11th, 2018. 

If you choose to stay on in Bangalore, you may. We can provide hotel recommendations for you. Please note: If you decide to fly out earlier or arrive later than the stipulated times for this course, you will be ENTIRELY responsible for traveling to or from the field station on your own. The group will move together at a fixed time, and we cannot accommodate mistakes in flight plans at all. Please see the FAQs below for information on visas and vaccines.

As with all of our courses, a comprehensive travel packet that contains information on when and how to book your travel, visas, vaccinations, and packing tips, will be made available to all students. This packet is provided to students once they have registered for the course.

The fee for this course for non-Indians is $3200 and must be paid in full six weeks after online registration or November 1, 2018, whichever is EARLIER.

The fee includes the following:

  • Food and lodging for the entire course.
  • Transportation to and from Bangalore, India to the field site.
  • Experienced instructors and field equipment.
  • Access to the field laboratory and ingredients to complete all projects

This course fee does NOT include:

  • International travel to India.
  • Travel or health insurance (proof of health insurance is required for course attendance).
  • Boots, binoculars, flashlight and insect repellent (all of which are required to take this course).

There are two ways to obtain financial assistance for attending this field course. You may participate in both of these programs simultaneously as follows:

  • Scholarships: We will be offering one scholarship to participate in this class targeting an Indian citizen on October 1. For the application details, please visit our scholarships page by that date.
  • Fundraising: FPI can now provide a peer-to-peer crowdfunding platform for all field course students. You will be able to make your fundraising page to share with your contacts and social networks. At the end of the fundraising period of 6 weeks from when you register or November 1, whichever is earlier, FPI will issue a discount code to you for 100% of the funds that you have raised. You would then enter this code as you make your final course payment. If you accumulate enough to cover all (or part) of your initial reservation fee, you would be refunded that portion as well. Please note that funds raised over your program fees will be rolled into our scholarship fund. Also, if you withdraw from the course at any time, your donors cannot get a refund. In this case, all of those funds would also roll over into our scholarship fund for other students. To set up this option, please register for a course, first, and then contact us at info@fieldprojects.org to set up your fundraising page.

Please read our cancellation policy carefully before applying to a field course:

  • $100 of your deposit made during registration is a processing fee that is nonrefundable under any circumstances.
  • If you cancel on or before November 1, you will be refunded 40% of the course fee, minus the processing fee of $100.
  • Course fees cannot be refunded for cancellations made after November 1.
  • If FPI has to cancel this course due to mitigating reasons, a full refund of all fees paid, including the registration fee, will be made available to all participants.
  • Early departures from the field course are not entitled to a refund for any reason.

At the end of the field course, we received anonymous testimonials from prior course participants, and a sampling of them are below:

“All the instructors shared their expertise so passionately and generously, and it really made the course spectacular. It is wonderful to learn from people who really care about the work they do and the systems they study. Thank you for putting so much thought, effort, and energy into such a one-of-a-kind learning experience! I’m excited to continue working on the data and contributing to the write-ups.” 

“I really don’t have any complaints at all. I thought all of your were very professional and kind to each of the students. In some of the labs I’ve worked in, I’ve been treated as an inferior to the person I’m working for. I didn’t feel that way at all during this course. There were many great conversations I had with the other students and instructors. I always appreciated the lively discussions!”

“The course exceeded my expectations! I enjoy it and learn a lot. I am very grateful!”

 


Frequently Asked Questions

If you don’t find the answers you are looking for below, please contact us.

Course Benefits

Can I get credit for this course?

Participants can acquire credit directly from their universities. You would provide your university with the course syllabus, and the school may decide to accept the instructor’s grade and issue credit for the course. For more details on obtaining credit or deciding if credit is for you, please email us at info@fieldprojects.org

I'm an international student, so how about course credit for me?

The United States university system runs on credits – typically 2 to 4 per class. A student needs a certain number of credits to graduate with a bachelors’ degree eventually. However, this system has little to no meaning outside the US itself, and thus, when we offer credits, we are primarily targeting those students within the US to whom this is relevant. Course credit is therefore only available to students in the US, or possibly countries like Canada, who can transfer credits from US Universities to their institutions to apply towards their degrees.

For all other students — and there have been plenty who have attended our courses — you receive many other benefits to taking the course, such as:

  1. A certificate from FPI showing that you completed the course
  2. A detailed report of your performance and your final grade, which you can share with future employers or anyone else in any manner you wish to.
  3. Co-authorship on publications arising from the course

To be clear: You are not required to sign up for credits in the US university system if you come from a country in which this system is itself not recognized. Furthermore, there is no requirement for US students to take this course for credit either. Course credit is an optional item and will incur credit fees from the university in question.

Is signing up for credit the right thing for me?

Questions to ask yourself before signing up for credit:

1. Will my university accept transfer credits from another university? Please consult your advisor and confirm this before signing up, because this is not the responsibility of either the university or Field Projects International

2. Can I afford to take the course for credit? The credit costs are paid directly to the university while the course fee is paid to FPI. Both will be necessary before you can take the course for credit.

Why else take this course?

Apart from the valuable skills, knowledge, and experience, you will acquire, FPI encourages alumni to network, support, and collaborate with each other after the course is done.  Also, our staff remains available for academic and career advice. Many of our alumni have returned as research assistants, and later even joined us as research collaborators, field team leaders, and instructors.

In addition to the specific training that will benefit those going into many fields, our courses also entail pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone and are challenging both mentally and physically. Furthermore, this is a chance to visit remote research stations in one of the most bio-diverse regions of the planet, and to learn about the incredible flora and fauna that you will see at every turn. 

Preparing to travel to India

What should I bring with me?

Download a packing list here. If you have questions, please email us at info@fieldprojects.org
How do I deal with Indian money?

The currency in India is the Indian Rupee. We say 1 “rupee” and each rupee contains 100 “paisa,” the equivalent of cents. The currency exchange rate is ~ Rs. 67 to 1 USD, but this can change so be sure to check at this site closer to your travel date.  Changing US dollars in India is not a difficult thing to do; we recommend you bring brand new, high-denomination bills, without any blemishes on them, for a bank to exchange them for you. You can find currency exchanges easily in the airport in Bangalore as well as in Bangalore and Mysore cities. However, the easiest way to get money is to use an ATM via a credit or debit card. The closest ATM to the field station is at Talapoya village, ~11 km from camp. Mananthavadi, ~19 km from the station, has SBI and HDFC banks which will exchange currency directly as well.

Things to consider: Bring two cards, in case one doesn’t work. Test that your pins work on both of your cards before you come to India. The most you can withdraw in a single day from an ATM is Rs. 10,000 or USD $156. ATM charges can apply, including conversion fees, so check with your bank about that. Withdrawing from an ATM is convenient, and prevents you from carrying around a lot of cash, which is always a much safer way to travel.

Traveler’s checks are entirely a thing of the past – just don’t buy them!

You do not need to have cash on you while at the field station except for possibly Rs.5000 at the very most, for emergencies. There’s nothing to buy, no stores to spend it on; cash, in short, is irrelevant in the rainforest.

However, during our first two days in Mysore, you will indeed want to have money on you to pay for any extras you might buy at a market, or for extra snacks or water for the drives, for example. How much you wish to withdraw will be up to you. See below for the expenses that will be covered by the course.

What's the lowdown on footwear?

You will require gumboots or knee-high rubber boots for all activities at the field station. You should buy these from home and not count on buying them locally.  Select a natural colored or black pair – polka dots would ensure all wildlife running away from you. You will wear these boots every single day while you are in the forest, so if you’re buying them new, break them in if you can. If you have sensitive feet with arch trouble, please bring insoles for your boots.

A pair of sneakers will come in handy during your travels and for use while at the camp itself. You will never wear flip-flops at camp, for your safety. You may, however, prefer to bring a pair so that you can wear them to, or in, the shower, or in the earlier period of your stay in Mysore and Bangalore.

What kind of luggage should I use?

Pack in something you can carry on your shoulders if necessary. Suitcases are not very practical at all. We recommend bringing a big duffel bag, or a backpack with most of your things in it.  You’ll also need a small daypack when on site to take with you on all your hikes. Make sure that it is large enough to carry a field notebook, small medical kit, and a water bottle or two.

What do I need in the forest?

The most important things you need in the forest that this course will NOT be providing are your hiking backpack, a water bottle, rubber boots, a headlamp, and a pair of binoculars. Check your packing list for more details on these items. Also, some things to consider bringing include a penknife (check it in, don’t hand carry – it will get caught), a bandana or hat, and energy bars as an extra snack.

Note: There are no mosquitoes at this site due to the elevation in altitude, so there is no need to use insect repellent while in Fringe Ford. However, it will come in handy in Bangalore and Mysore. However, there are ticks you can pick up during hiking at Fringe Ford, so please bring some repellent that contains DEET for spraying on your clothes alone.

What about battery-operated equipment?

You will need to use a battery-operated headlamp with LEDs at this site. This headlamp will be your best friend and is useful since it is hands-free. If you’re interested in seeing wildlife at night, bring one that is bright, and that has a red light option, as the red light doesn’t scare nocturnal animals as much. Headlamps will need batteries, and we strongly suggest that you bring rechargeable batteries with you.  This means that you must also obtain a small battery charger. If you can’t and have to bring regular batteries, please buy energy efficient ones so you use as few as possible, since you will have to take all batteries back with you and recycle them (you cannot leave them at the field station). Please see the section on electronics for how to manage voltage issues.

Do I need a watch or alarm clock?

Yes. Make sure that you have something extremely reliable as an alarm clock – whether you use your phone or watch is up to you. If in doubt, purchase this watch from Amazon, or something like it.

How do I care for my passport and papers?

Passports are valuable items that you want to protect from molding in the rainforest. There’s only one way to do this, and that is to put them in small ziplock bags (double-bag them) and then leave them entirely alone.  I would do the same with any cash you bring with you also. Paper gets moldy very quickly.

What is the weather like at the field station?

The weather at the station in January is typically warm and pleasant (from 23C to 28C or 73F to 90F) during the day, but you might feel a bit chilly at night when it goes down to 9C (or 48F). So, bring a jacket or sweater and something warm to wear to sleep in as well. If you tend to feel colder than most, bring a little more warm clothing than listed above. Remember that it is better to be over prepared than under prepared in this regard – there will be no way to go out and purchase additional clothing if you are missing anything.

What medications should I bring?

The field station and the course do not provide any medications to students. As such, they must bring a small medical kit for minor issues:

– A course of broad-spectrum antibiotics (ciprofloxacin is a common and effective one)

– A course of antibiotics for digestive trouble, and a small number of pills of immodium (to be used in emergencies only)

– Electrolyte/rehydration packs (hint: the juice-flavored ones are much nicer than the medical ones)

– Anti-fungal cream/powder (effective on yeast), particularly if you are prone to these infections

– Anti-itch medication: over-the-counter lotions are ok

– Antacids to comfort your stomach

– Band-aids, tweezers

–  An Epi-pen if you are allergic to anything at all

– Antihistamines to be taken in case of mild allergies (something like Claritin/ Zyrtec)

– A venom extraction kit: don’t worry, we don’t get snake bites, but these are useful in case of wasp or bee stings.

What vaccinations do I need?

You will have to provide proof of a regular vaccination record (as listed here by the CDC). For travel to India, we require that you also get the following vaccines: Typhoid (oral or injectable) and Hepatitis A. It is additionally recommended to speak with your doctor or a travel clinic about the Japanese encephalitis vaccine and to follow their expert advice in this matter. If you have the current flu shot for the year as well, all the better. Find a travel clinic and get your shots EARLY.

You may consider taking malaria prophylaxis if you like, particularly for your stay in Mysore and Bangalore. There are no mosquitoes at the field station so the risk of catching malaria while there is minimal. Please follow your health care provider’s recommendations in this regard.

The CDC’s recommendations for travelers to India may be found here.

What about health and safety?

We take the health and safety of all participants very seriously at this site.  We look out for each other and take care of our team. The field site has stringent protocols on safety procedures in the case of an emergency that we are obliged to follow.  If anyone should need medical help, they can be transported by car to town in a matter of 30 minutes, where they can be treated or evacuated to Mysore or Bangalore for treatment.

It is advisable for participants to sign up for medivac insurance, as neither the field station nor FPI will be responsible for costs associated with medical emergencies, however dire.

Before being accepted to the program, applicants must submit a medical history evaluation. This is not meant to discriminate against people, but instead to protect them from being in a situation where they are at a severe or life-threatening disadvantage. All participants must sign a participation contract, without which applicants cannot participate in our courses or research programs.

You will also sign a sexual and gender-based misconduct contract (and so will your supervisors). This is not to suggest that this issue is a problem at this field site in particular. However, there has been a large amount of reporting on these matters in the press of late, and we want to assure you that we take any such violations extremely seriously. We want our students to be as safe and comfortable as possible.

Field Station Amenities

 

How do I care for electronics at the field station?

We require you to bring s laptop to this course, and encourage you to also bring a smart phone if you have one. They will come in handy for data entry, entertainment, and for completing assignments. Electronics have to be treated differently in the rainforest than you would anywhere else. Do not bother to bring a soft sleeve for the laptop with you, because it will suck up moisture from the air and will envelop your computer in it, which is terrible news. We find that simple plastic ziplock bags work better than sports dry bags. We recommend that you purchase at least two ziplock bags that are large enough to fit your computer. You can also buy silicon gel packages online (Amazon or Jake’s Silica Gel are good places to try, along with local stores like REI). Put a couple of 5-gram packets inside the ziplock with your computer and bring at least two more packs with you.

India uses a different set of plugs than the US or England. The project will have extension cords and power strips that will accept US plugs; however, if you want to plug things in while you travel, you should consider picking up a small converter for your electronics that will fit plugs in India (see here for a full explanation). The Indian system uses 220 – 240 volts, instead of 120/140 volts as in the US. Please CHECK your electronics to make sure they are compatible before plugging them in at the station or anywhere in India. If they don’t work at both voltages, you will need to bring a step up converter such as this one.  Also, note that you will not find three-pronged sockets in most places, so definitely at least bring a three to two modifier (such as this) for your electronics.

Electricity at the field station is available 24-hours a day, technically speaking. However, power failures can occur, so expect to spend some nights in candlelight. You may bring solar chargers if you feel the need to.

Do not bring a hair dryer, electric razor, or electric toothbrush because those are very much considered an unnecessary luxury at this site. We will prioritize charging absolutely everything else over those items.

Is there internet at the field station?

Wireless internet is not available at Fringe Ford, so please do not count on sending daily email updates during this part of the program. Outside of the field station you will have access to data over cellular networks and WiFi at the hotels we will be using.

Is there phone service at the field station?

Phone signals are available through most of India – but the field station is in a steep valley and thus, has found a blind spot. This really adds to the charm of the experience. In an emergency, we can drive a couple of kilometers away to catch a signal but do not count on having it at the field station itself. Also, during some of the hikes that take you up the hills nearby, you can catch cell phone signals for all the Indian providers.

In Bangalore and Mysore, you can get connected to the leading network “Airtel” from anywhere.  Contact your cell service provider and make sure that you can pick up this network’s service while in India. Then, purchase an international calling plan, pre-paid minutes, or some international texting plan. This will allow you to communicate with your family at home, during those first few days, or in the middle and end of the course when we return to town.

If you have a smartphone, download Viber and WhatsApp – both apps will allow you to stay connected with instructors while negotiating airport pickups, etc.

How do I do laundry at the field station?

There is a small but functional washing machine on site and laundry can be done for you on site if needed. If you have any special needs regarding detergent, please bring something different with you, but basic detergent will be available. Clothes are dried on a clothes line at the field station. We find the most people prefer to bring enough clothes to complete the program without laundry services. We recommend that, minimally, you have enough clothes to last you a full week.

What is the risk of disease in the Western Ghats?

This is the south Indian rainforest, and as with all tropical areas, there are disease risks. Unlike towns, however, this field station does not hold enough people to serve as constant reservoirs for many diseases.

As such, malaria is not found at this site, and no one on our team takes malaria prophylactics. Your travel doctor will most likely disagree because their information is about the region in general, and it is true that malaria can be contracted in Mananthavadi, Mysore, and Bangalore. The choice to take malaria prophylactics is entirely personal – if you feel better about it, take the medication.

Leeches are of slight concern at this site, only in that they make hiking somewhat more of an adventure. You will be wearing high boots during hikes, and the field station will provide you with leech socks that do not allow leeches to come into contact with your skin. You will also hike with a salt container to gently dislodge leeches from your boots if they climb too high. However unnerving this sounds remember the following facts: a) leeches are not known to carry any diseases at all, b) they form a large food source for a variety of animals and are an integral part of the ecosystem in these forests, c) if you do get bitten, you will not even notice for they are completely painless and once a leech feeds, it will drop off naturally..

Travel in Bangalore

 

Visas

Visas are required for travel to India for citizens of many countries. To apply for a visa, use the following websites or contact us for more information if you can’t locate it online: Travisa or Cox and Kings

You can get an e-tourist visa as a US citizen applying for an Indian visa, which is a quick way to get a visa upon arrival in India by acquiring prior electronically generated approval in the US. The final stamp in your passport happens when you land in India after biometrics are taken at the airport. Note: You must not apply earlier than 34 days before you travel to India, processing time is ~3 business days, and it costs $49 with Travisa. You have to provide a valid passport and confirmed round-trip flight tickets to apply. It will only allow you to enter the country twice, for a total duration of 60 days. You cannot have more than two such visas in a 12-month period.

You can also apply for a traditional tourist visa, which can take a little longer to process and which involves sending your passport to an agency and getting it returned. You can, however, get a ten-year multiple entry tourist visas for ~$125 with a 6-10 business day turnaround, depending on where you live in the US and which consulate you approach. This visa should allow you to enter and leave the country freely during your stay, facilitating any additional travel in the region if you so desire.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, Travisa is probably an excellent agency to use since it does offer some global services. Otherwise, contact your local Indian consulate and ask them for help. In many countries, it’s possible to walk-in your papers to the embassy in-person and gets a visa both quickly and independent of any agency. In some others, you have to go through an agency. This will vary by country.

IMPORTANT: If you are Indian by origin, or have recently switched from Indian to other citizenship, you have somewhat of a long road ahead of you, so begin the visa process quickly for it can take ~2 months to complete.

Registration with local police at the field station

As a matter of routine, the field station will follow its protocol to register all visiting foreigners with the local police department. To do this, all students must carry the following to the field station:

  1. Two photocopies of your passport
  2. Two passport-sized photographs

Please note: This rule applies to people with OCI or PIO cards (equivalents of Indian green cards).

Spending time in India before or after the course

If you arrive before the course begins, you can take a bus or train from another city in India to Bangalore. We cannot advise you on where to visit – the country is enormous and full of things to see – but we recommend purchasing a Lonely Planet guide and working from there. If you arrive in Bangalore on an earlier date or via a mode of transportation other than a plane, we cannot offer you a pickup. However, given that you have been in the country already, we can assist you in arranging for a cab to bring you to your hotel.

As the course ends in Bangalore city, you can quit easily extend your stay in India and reserve your own travel by air, bus, or train to virtually anywhere in the country, including many international destinations. We cannot help you make travel or stay reservations in India beyond the course, but our instructors will be happy to provide suggestions on how to spend a few extra days.

Getting to the field station from Bangalore

Step One: Upon arrival at the Bangalore airport, you will be taken to a meeting point from which we will depart in a convoy of cars operated by your instructors to the Wildlife SOS Sloth Bear Sanctuary. The drive will take approximately 4 hours, with a stop for lunch along the way. Please bring medication with you if you tend to get car sickness.

Step Two: In a convoy of cars we will depart Bangalore to Mysore, the drive will take approximately 4 hours, with a stop for lunch along the way. Please bring medication with you if you tend to get car sickness. We hope to be in Mysore soon after lunch, where you will be checked in to a hotel along with the rest of the group. That afternoon, we will enter the city making stops at the oldest zoo in the nation (begun in the late 1800s) and the Mysore palace, generally keeping busy during the day so that we all acclimatize to jet lag. The next morning we begin a crash course in bioinformatics, stopping in the afternoon to pay a visit to the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary. The next morning we complete the bioinformatics workshop before departing from Mysore.

Step Three: Next, we will drive to the field station using a slow route, on the afternoon of the 2nd of January. The idea is to spend time viewing wildlife in the forests as we go and to arrive at the field station by dinner time. Fringe Ford is located in Kerala, one state over from Karnataka, of which Bangalore is the capital. The closest town to Fringe Ford is Mananthavadi.

Our Return: At the end of our time in the forest, we will drive directly from Fringe Ford to Bangalore, leaving soon after breakfast and arriving before the rush hour that evening. We will then spend another day in Bangalore running the bioinformatics pipelines that were completed in Mysore on the sequence data that was generated at Fringe Ford.

Airport pickups and other arrival details

When all students on the course have submitted their travel information form (see above), we will collate this information and send you an Arrival Plan. This document will let you know if others are traveling on the same flight/bus as you and provide you with their email addresses so you can get in touch in advance (if you want to).  You will also receive exact instructions on what to do when you land, and an image of your instructors so you can look out for us at the airport/bus station. More importantly, we will provide you with instructions on what to do if you find out that you have been delayed. The Arrival Plan will also include local contact information for your instructors so that you can get in touch with them if needed to let them know if your travel plans were forced to change for some reason.

Please do not panic about being picked up at an airport or not knowing who will do this until you receive the Arrival Plan. That plan will contain all the information you need. Expect it to arrive electronically just before Christmas.

Course Information
  • Course Id:I-GEN-19
  • Location:Fringe Ford, India
  • Dates:Dec 29, 2018 - Jan 11, 2019
  • Duration:14 Days (incl. travel)
  • Deadline:November 1
  • Language:English
Itinerary
Dec 29-30: Arrival in Bangalore late night (Dec 29) or early morning (Dec 30), visit WSOS sloth bear center
Dec 31-Jan 1: Travel to Mysore, 2-day crash course in bioinformatics
Jan 2 - Jan 8: Wildlife viewing, sample collection, and field genetics workshop at Fringe Ford
Jan 9: Return to Bangalore
Jan 10: Run bioinformatics pipelines, discuss results
Jan 11: Course departure

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