ROSHAN PATEL/COURTESY OF SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL ZOO
This past August, zookeepers welcomed an exciting new addition to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.: a panda cub. At first, zookeepers didn’t know whether the newborn was a boy or a girl. That’s because young male and female giant pandas look basically identical. To identify the cub’s sex, veterinarians had to test the panda’s DNA. This hereditary material carries information about how an organism looks and functions.
The veterinarians swabbed the cub’s cheek to collect a DNA sample. Once the panda’s DNA was analyzed, the zoo announced, “It’s a boy!” Today, the tiny bundle of joy is doing well, says Laurie Thompson, the zoo’s assistant curator of giant pandas. “His development is right on track.”