Finding a virus is not all bad news
Questions around the movement and population size changes of Kiwis, Tuatara and other New Zealand wildlife over the past hundred years have been continually studied by conservationists and scientists. It now seems the answers might all be found in the viruses that infect them.
Dr Alexei Drummond, from The University of Aucklands Faculty of Science, has been part of a global research team analysing the genetic sequences of viruses in animals.
This pioneering technique has so far proved to be more effective than the traditional technique of using genetic material directly from the animal.
"Analysing a virus in a group of animals enables us to determine such things as their population size, the population changes, rate of evolution and rate of movement in the past hundred years," says Alexei, who is a lecturer in Computer Science and Bioinformatics.
Studying cougars in the Rocky Mountains in North America the research team took blood samples from 352 cougars along with a GPS reading from where the sample was collected.
The blood samples were then tested for the FIV virus, which is passed from cougar to cougar through physical contact or at birth.
"Viruses evolve rapidly so once you have a common virus such as FIV infecting a large percentage of cougars you are able to analyse its genetic sequence to learn about the cat population.
"Every virus strain has its own unique mutations and as the virus is passed from cougar to cougar these mutations in the virus accumulate, leaving a valuable trail of information about the host animals relationships to each other. Because of the way the virus is transmitted, closely related cougars will have closely related viruses. It is for that reason we can use the viruses to track the cats and learn about their recent history."
Once the viruses have been sequenced the data, GPS readings and sample dates were entered into a computer programme, designed by Alexei.
The software analysed the data by comparing the genetic information from the different virus strains with their geographic positions and the date that they were sampled. Together with a mathematical model of how the virus evolves this information was used to estimate the cougars population size, the changes in the population over time, rate of evolution and rate of movement.
"This new technique of analysing the genetic data from a virus in an animal rather than the animals own genes has been more effective for short term information and is both cheaper and a far quicker process," says Alexei.
The research teams findings were recently published in Science, one of the worlds leading science journals for new research.
Bill Williams | EurekAlert!
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
Spectrally narrow x-ray pulses may be “sharpened” by purely mechanical means. This sounds surprisingly, but a team of theoretical and experimental physicists developed and realized such a method. It is based on fast motions, precisely synchronized with the pulses, of a target interacting with the x-ray light. Thereby, photons are redistributed within the x-ray pulse to the desired spectral region.
A team of theoretical physicists from the MPI for Nuclear Physics (MPIK) in Heidelberg has developed a novel method to intensify the spectrally broad x-ray...
Physicists working with researcher Oriol Romero-Isart devised a new simple scheme to theoretically generate arbitrarily short and focused electromagnetic fields. This new tool could be used for precise sensing and in microscopy.
Microwaves, heat radiation, light and X-radiation are examples for electromagnetic waves. Many applications require to focus the electromagnetic fields to...
Strong light-matter coupling in these semiconducting tubes may hold the key to electrically pumped lasers
Light-matter quasi-particles can be generated electrically in semiconducting carbon nanotubes. Material scientists and physicists from Heidelberg University...
Fraunhofer IPA has developed a proximity sensor made from silicone and carbon nanotubes (CNT) which detects objects and determines their position. The materials and printing process used mean that the sensor is extremely flexible, economical and can be used for large surfaces. Industry and research partners can use and further develop this innovation straight away.
At first glance, the proximity sensor appears to be nothing special: a thin, elastic layer of silicone onto which black square surfaces are printed, but these...
3-D shape acquisition using water displacement as the shape sensor for the reconstruction of complex objects
A global team of computer scientists and engineers have developed an innovative technique that more completely reconstructs challenging 3D objects. An ancient...