Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

When conservation goes genomics: Finding needles in a haystack

22.11.2012
Genetic markers for Bornean elephants now discovered

Studying the genetic variability of endangered species is becoming increasingly necessary for species conservation and monitoring. But, endangered species are difficult to observe and sample, and typically harbour very limited genetic diversity.


This is a Bornean elephant in the wild.
Credit: Rudi Delvaux/DGFC

Until now, the process of finding genetic markers was time consuming and quite expensive. These obstacles make the collection of genetic data from endangered animals a difficult task to fulfill.

A research team led by Lounès Chikhi (http://www.igc.gulbenkian.pt/research/unit/88), group leader at the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (IGC) and CNRS researcher (http://www.edb.ups-tlse.fr/Chikhi-Lounes.html) (in Toulouse, France), has now contributed to change the odds when looking for diversity.

Taking advantage of cutting edge DNA sequencing methodology and the collaborations with the Sabah Wildlife Department in Malaysia, Rachel O'Neill's laboratory (http://www.mcb.uconn.edu/fac.php?name=oneillrj) (University of Connecticut) and a private company (Floragenex, http://www.floragenex.com/), they were able to identify the genetic markers for the Bornean elephant, an endangered species, using blood from very few animals.

The results showed that Bornean elephants have very low genetic variability that can impact on their survival to a threatened habitat, but that variable genetic markers can still be identified. The study now published in the journal PLOS ONE*, besides contributing to the conservation of the Bornean elephant, opens new avenues for the conservation of other endangered species.

The Bornean elephant is a unique subspecies of the Asian elephant, with a quite distinct morphology and behavior. They are generally smaller than other elephants, with straight tusks and a long tail. Currently, there are around 2000 individuals, located only in the North of Borneo. It remains unknown how this population of elephants evolved to become so different and why its distribution is so restricted.

Despite being one of the highest priority populations for Asian elephant conservation, until now there were limited genetic tools available to study its genetic variability and none that had been specifically designed for this species. Now, in the work conducted by Reeta Sharma, a Post-Doctoral fellow in Lounès Chikhi's group, for the first time DNA sequences that characterize the genome of the Bornean elephants, called genetic markers, were identified. The research team used two different DNA sequencing technologies that are fast and increasingly cheaper. This kind of technology has been used for common laboratory species such as mice and fruit-flies, but they are only now starting to be used on endangered and "non-model" species.

Until now, in order to determine whether the species still harboured sufficient genetic diversity it was necessary to look through huge regions of the genome, using classical genetics methodologies, or use markers developed for other species, with varying levels of success. This approach can become unsustainable for the endangered species, whose numbers have gone bellow a certain size for long time. The only study that previously had tried to analyse Bornean elephants, using genetic markers developed for other Asian elephants had found nearly no genetic diversity. The work now developed demonstrates that if the methodology can be applied to the Bornean elephant, it should be possible to find the needles we need, and not get stuck with the hay, i.e., to find variable genetic markers in many other species.

The DNA analysis done resulted from blood samples collected only from seven Bornean elephants from the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park (Sabah, Malaysia) and from Chendra, the star elephant of Oregon zoo (Portland, USA). But, the research team is confident that these DNA sequencing methods can be used to type genetically other biological samples, such as hair or faeces, easier to obtain from wild animals, even though blood or tissue samples are still necessary to identify the markers during the first steps.

Reeta Sharma, first author of this work, says: 'The methodology applied to identify the genetic markers for the Bornean elephant can be used in the future for studies on the genetic variability of other species or populations facing the risk of extinction.'

The Bornean elephants live in an environment where natural habitats disappear quickly, due to oil palm plantations and populations get isolated from each other. Having access to variable genetic markers will be crucial to identify populations that are isolated and genetically depauperate, and monitor them in the future.

The origin of these elephants in Borneo raises controversy that has been long discussed. The only study done on the basis of genetic data concluded that they had been present in Borneo for more than 300,000 years. This theory does not satisfy all researchers as there is lack of elephant fossils in Borneo to support it. Another theory is that the sultan of Java sent Javan elephants as a gift to the sultan of Sulu, who would have introduced them to Borneo.Lounes Chikhi suggests: 'The new genetic markers that we found may also allow us to unravel the mystery of the origin of these elephants in Borneo, and perhaps reconstruct part of their demographic history. This is very exciting '.

This research was carried out at the IGC in collaboration with the Laboratoire Evolution et Diversité Biologique in Toulouse, and with the School of Biosciences, Cardiff University (UK), the Sabah Wildlife Department (Malaysia), the Danau Girang Field Centre (Malaysia), the Center for Applied Genetics and Technology, University of Connecticut (USA) and Floragenex, Inc. (USA). Research was funded mainly by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), Portugal, and Laboratoire d'Excellence (LABEX), France.

* Sharma R, Goossens B, Kun-Rodrigues C, Teixeira T, Othman N, Boone JQ, Jue NK, Obergfell C, O'Neill RJ and Chikhi L (2012) Two Different High Throughput Sequencing Approaches Identify Thousands of De Novo Genomic Markers for the Genetically Depleted Bornean Elephant. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49533. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049533

Ana Mena | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.gulbenkian.pt

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht New mechanisms uncovered explaining frost tolerance in plants
26.09.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision
23.09.2016 | Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First quantum photonic circuit with electrically driven light source

Optical quantum computers can revolutionize computer technology. A team of researchers led by scientists from Münster University and KIT now succeeded in putting a quantum optical experimental set-up onto a chip. In doing so, they have met one of the requirements for making it possible to use photonic circuits for optical quantum computers.

Optical quantum computers are what people are pinning their hopes on for tomorrow’s computer technology – whether for tap-proof data encryption, ultrafast...

Im Focus: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

Im Focus: Complex hardmetal tools out of the 3D printer

For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.

Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...

Im Focus: Launch of New Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing

At AKL’16, the International Laser Technology Congress held in May this year, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings and feasibility.

In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques – from USP ablation and additive...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Experts from industry and academia discuss the future mobile telecommunications standard 5G

23.09.2016 | Event News

ICPE in Graz for the seventh time

20.09.2016 | Event News

Using mathematical models to understand our brain

16.09.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

The Flexible Grid Involves its Users

27.09.2016 | Information Technology

Process-Integrated Inspection for Ultrasound-Supported Friction Stir Welding of Metal Hybrid-Joints

27.09.2016 | Machine Engineering

First quantum photonic circuit with electrically driven light source

27.09.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>