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Blow-drying a sea otter (Enhydra lutris) pelt

(N.B. No animals were harmed in the process of making any of the specimens displayed on this website and were all collected with proper permits. When animals of conservation concern die, especially in zoos or monitored habitats, their remains are often sent to museums so their skeletons, pelts, and genetic material can be further studied by scientists.)

Madeleine A. Becker

PhD Candidate in Biosciences:
Biocomplexity & Evolutionary Biology

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I'm a PhD candidate at George Mason University's Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, and a graduate fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute's Center for Conservation Genomics at the National Zoo. My research interests include mammalian evolutionary and conservation genomics, but I also have experience with systematics and microbiome projects. For my thesis, I'm  integrating historical museum specimens and cutting-edge genomic techniques to investigate genomic patterns of island introductions, isolation, and short-term evolution.

In my spare time, I like exploring the NoVA outdoors, solving crosswords, and attempting to knit. I'm always trying to visit as many museums as possible and find more ways to get involved with outreach!




  • June - Published my first first-author article in Marine Mammal Science on my work with Delphinus mitogenomes from my 2019 REU internship at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Many thanks to my co-authors for their work on the ground in Senegal and in the lab, and especially to my mentor Dr. Michael McGowen for his tremendous support and patience as I learned how to write a scientific paper! 

  • May - Awarded another Grant-in-Aid from ASM for island mouse research—thank you ASM!

  • May - Check out this great GMU write-up on my research and recent grants!

  • April - Back at it again on Easter Monday at the Zoo despite torrential downpours. Luckily, the rain did not deter kids' love of fake animal poop! 

  • March - Lots of good news: won a travel award from ASM to present at the upcoming mammal meeting in Boulder this June, and a coveted EECG award from the American Genetics Association to support my dissertation research! Thank you AGA and ASM!

  • February - Submitted my first chapter on island mouse phylogeography for the Proceedings of the California Islands Symposium. Stay tuned to see what we found...


  • November - Gave a talk in Ventura at the California Islands Symposium about my island mouse preliminary findings: "Reconstructing Channel Island Deer Mouse Evolutionary History with Genome-Wide Ultraconserved Elements" while UCSB-Smithsonian Scholars Intern Cesar presented a fantastic poster: "Mitogenomes from the California Channel Island deer mice reveal new phylogenetic relationships"! Even more importantly, I visited Santa Cruz Island and saw island foxes, island scrub jays, and lots of marine mammals! 

  • July - Presented a poster at the American Society of Mammalogists/International Mammalogical Conference: "Time series museomics" using the Channel Island 
    deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus subspp.)

  • April - The National Zoo's Easter Monday scavenger egg hunt featured a Genetics table, where we talked to kids about getting DNA from scat and museum specimens! Kids loved touching the animal scat models almost as much as parents loved hearing that they were fake.

  • February - Passed comprehensive exams and almost advanced to candidacy! Now back to the lab to actually do my proposed research!


  • November - Dissertation proposal, "Evolutionary Genomics of Channel Island Peromyscus", has been successfully defended! 

  • June - First day working in the CCG ancient DNA lab... Mouse toes successfully digested, extracted, and quantified: we've got DNA!

  • May - Awarded a Graduate Student Research Award by the Society for Systematic Biologists. Thanks SSB!

  • May - Awarded a grant-in-aid and the Horner Award for best grants-in-aid proposal by the American Society of Mammalogists. Thanks ASM! 

  • April - Finished P. maniculatus study skin sampling at museums. Thanks to mammal/vertebrate zoology departments at Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History for access to their amazing collections!

  • April - Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History profiled me and my research on island deer mice. Check it out!

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