Marlys Houck

Senior Researcher

Marlys Houck serves San Diego Zoo Global as a Senior Researcher in Conservation Genetics. In this role, she manages our cell culture and cytogenetics labs, overseeing daily sample acquisition, tissue culture, and karyotyping of cell lines accessioned into the Frozen Zoo®. Her responsibilities also include sharing the resources of this unique collection with qualified researchers worldwide. Through her years of research, Marlys has developed a special interest and expertise in rhinoceros cell lines and karyotypes.

Marlys and her team have contributed thousands of viable frozen cell lines from mammalian, avian, reptilian, and amphibian species to the world-renowned Frozen Zoo®, and are responsible for maintaining this irreplaceable collection. On-site cytogenetic analysis of these cell lines provides valuable information about sex determination, species/subspecies distinctions, chromosome abnormalities, and genetic variation. Currently, Marlys and her group are focusing on increasing the diversity of banked taxa by adding more amphibians and California native species. Because cell lines could one day aid genetic rescue efforts, she and her team strive to bank as many individuals as possible from species in rapid decline. As one of the few research teams specializing in cell culture of wildlife species, the team also shares their methods and expertise with scientists around the world and encourages them to establish cryobanks featuring species native to their countries.

Marlys earned her bachelor’s degree in Biology from California State University, Fresno, and also obtained certification as a Clinical Lab Specialist in Cytogenetics. She has authored or co-authored dozens of scientific and popular publications and given numerous presentations to professional groups and organizations about the Frozen Zoo® and the division’s ongoing research. She enjoys nearly any activity that gets her close to nature, including hiking, biking, and gardening.

SCIENCE AT WORK