As the University of Leicester approaches the 25th anniversary of the discovery of DNA fingerprinting (September 10), Leicester geneticists interested in a particular type of DNA are receiving some help from an unusual band of assistants.
Chimpanzees at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire have been trained to enable keepers to take DNA samples with special cheek swabs.
Dr Richard Badge, of the University's world renowned Department of Genetics, is studying 'mobile DNA' in the genomes of humans and other primates.
Most genes are always found in the same place in the genome. For example, the human DMD gene, changes in which can cause muscular dystrophy, is always found on the X chromosome. However the 'genes' that Dr Badge and his colleagues study have been moving around the genome throughout mammalian and primate evolution, and are still doing it today.
Dr Badge explained: "This makes every human (and every chimpanzee for that matter!) a little bit different at the DNA level, a little like a DNA fingerprint.
"The reason we are interested in chimpanzees is that the main type of mobile DNA in their genome apparently moves much more frequently than ours, despite the fact that these mobile DNAs are very, very similar.
"The chimpanzees at Twycross are very valuable because not only do they include unrelated chimpanzees they also have small family groups where the relationships between the individuals is known. This enables us to observe the difference between individuals in terms of their mobile DNA and say something about the process of movement, which is not really understood in detail.
"So far we have samples from fourteen Chimpanzees. We have full pedigrees for many - Noddy is the mum of Flynn, William, and Jomar, for example."
When Dr Badge and his team started the sampling programme at Twycross, they liaised with the Zoo vet, Nic Masters, to take mouth swabs from chimpanzees that had been anaethetised for routine vet procedures. However, Kris Hern, the Deputy Head of African Apes and Training Co-ordinator at Twycross, had a better suggestion. She thought that the chimpanzees could be trained to be swabbed.
Dr Badge welcomed this opportunity to get more regular samples from more of the chimpanzees, since many of them, being quite young and very healthy, are not tranquilised at all frequently. Only the older chimpanzees often have dental problems that require sedation.
The Chimpanzee DNA sampling project relies in large part on the use of special buccal swabs that ensure high yields of good quality DNA with minimal contact. The Isohelix DNA swabs are manufactured by Cell Projects in Maidstone UK . Dr Badge said: "We are grateful to Cell Projects / Isohelix for the special swabs which they supplied, enabling us to obtain the DNA samples more efficiently than is possible with traditional swabs. It has made our- and the chimps' task- a lot easier!"
The chimps that are making such a valuable contribution to science are Kip, William, Peter, Samantha and Elly. Choppers, Noddy, Tojo, Ricky, Flyn, Josie, Victoria, Jomar and Mwekundu have all provided DNA while they have been anaesthetized for other reasons.
Kris Hern, who trained the chimps, found some of them took to it better than others - Peter and William proved particularly good at holding their mouths open.
She commented: "The chimps were trained using positive reinforcement to get the desired behaviour. Once the chimps learnt to open their mouths on cue they were desensitised to the DNA wand and by using this technique, the chimps allowed the swabs to be taken. The training sessions with the chimps is voluntary and the chimps find them mentally and physically stimulating."
Dr Badge added: "The chimpanzees get grapes as a reward and so sometimes the swabs come back a little green, but this does not affect our research. We might extract a little grape DNA, but we use highly chimp specific analyses, so it does not interfere."
Bridget Fry, Animal Health and Research Manager at Twycross Zoo, said: "Richard Badge had direct communications through the Research Officer at Twycross Zoo. The Veterinary Department was then able to advise Kris Hern how to collect the samples.
"The ability to acquire DNA samples from our chimpanzees without a general anaesthetic is a leap into the future. The information that the DNA samples can give the Zoo means that correct matches with breeding animals can be made within the breeding programmes."
Twenty-five years ago in the Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys developed the technique of DNA fingerprinting, a powerful and elegant way to distinguish between different individuals.
Since then, Sir Alec has won countless international awards for his research, not only on DNA fingerprinting but also on the fundamental mechanisms that generate diversity in human DNA.
This discovery has had far-reaching consequences:the identification and conviction of criminals
Dr Richard Badge | EurekAlert!
For a chimpanzee, one good turn deserves another
27.06.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Mathematik in den Naturwissenschaften (MPIMIS)
New method to rapidly map the 'social networks' of proteins
27.06.2017 | Salk Institute
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
27.06.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering
27.06.2017 | Information Technology
27.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy