Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects

Date of Award

Spring 4-2020

Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology-BS


Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


Simon Lawrance Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Simon Lawrance Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Sarah Bouchard Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Prof. Erica Van Dop


African Penguin Population, Genetic Diversity, DNA, Denaturing Gradient Gel Electrophoresis, Polymerase Chain Reaction, Allele

Subject Categories

Higher Education | Molecular Biology | Molecular Genetics | Other Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


The Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is responsible for the immune response in all jawed vertebrates and protects individuals against a variety of pathogens and diseases. Maintaining genetic diversity within the MHC exons is critical to protecting endangered species. African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are in danger of losing their MHC diversity in isolated populations due to reductions in population size associated with environmental changes and human activity. This study analyzes the diversity within the exons in the DNA encoding the MHC by amplifying the exons through polymerase chain reaction and identifying alleles through denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. Wild populations of African penguins from Dassen Island, Dyer Island, and Robben Island in South Africa were sampled. Four alleles were present in the populations analyzed, but the frequencies differed between each island. Cape001 was present at high frequencies within each island population. The Robben Island population had the highest frequency of cape001 compared to the other island populations, with 78.9% of individuals carrying cape001. Analyzing the variability of the MHC II region contributes to previous studies done on populations of African penguins and provides insight into how to further protect the genetic diversity of this endangered species.