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[QUITO] The Galapagos Islands are to get their first molecular biology laboratory, which will allow research to be carried out in situ into diseases that threaten species found only on the islands.

The laboratory, which will open in October, is being set up with support from Equador's University of Guayaquil and the Galapagos National Park, together with London Institute of Zoology. The UK government will cover almost half of the costs of the US$725,000 project through its Darwin Initiative, which aims to promote biodiversity conservation in developing countries.

“Finally we will no longer be forced to send samples to the Ecuadorian mainland – or, even worse, to other countries – just to analyse the causes of diseases affecting species,” says Virna Cedeño, a specialist in genetics and pathology and one of the project's directors.

Scientists will be able to use molecular techniques at the new laboratory to detect diseases even when individual animals or plants do not show specific symptoms, which will help authorities take action before epidemics break out. To date, a lack of equipment and funds has meant that only diseases affecting birds have been studied in this way.

The more than 60 islands that make up the Galapagos are located 1,000 kilometres from the Ecuadorian mainland. They contain about 5,000 sea and land species, almost 2,000 of which are unique to the islands.

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