Genetic evidence helping match confiscated rhinoceros horns to crime scenes -- Already used in scores of successful prosecutions
Call it CSI meets conservation.
Stephen O'Brien, Ph.D., a research scientist at Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, has worked with colleagues across the globe to create a DNA database of rhinoceros that will be used to help with the criminal prosecution of poachers.
"What we've done is create a powerful tool - a genetic database - that enforcement officials can use when they are building cases against those accused of poaching," Dr. O'Brien said. "These magnificent animals are facing increased dangers, so we need to bring every resource we can to the efforts to save them for generations to come."
The research team included experts from the University of Pretoria's Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, the Theodosius Dobzhansky Center for Genome Bioinformatics, St. Petersburg State University and African wildlife enforcement units.
A new report addresses the illegal taking of African rhinoceros - an important conservation icon - by organized crime syndicates trafficking rhino horns to southeast Asia markets. Rhino poaching is uncontrolled and increasing, from a few incidents a decade ago to more than 1,000 per year today. The profits are enormous, and so far the risks rather modest.
This study changes that.
The study, published today in Current Biology titled "Robust forensic matching of confiscated horns to individual poached African rhinoceros", describes a comprehensive effort to create a large database of individual rhinos' composite short-term repeat-STR (also called microsatellite) genotypes so they could match confiscated tissue-DNA to real time crime scenes for prosecution.
The team developed an extensive database of rhinoceros DNA profiles and demographic information named RhODIS® (Rhino DNA Index System), modeled after CODIS, which is the U.S. FBI's criminal DNA database. The RhODIS® forensic system involved African wildlife ranger training and certification, a chain of custody compliant sampling methodology used for live and dead rhinoceros and rhinoceros horns, an eRhODIS™ field data collection "app" and state-of-the-art DNA genetic individualization. To date, more than 20,000 individual rhinoceros specimens and genotypes have been added to the RhODIS® database.
These data include more than 5,800 forensic case samples where links were made between recovered horns, blood stained evidence items and specific rhinoceros carcasses. In the most recent cases listed in the report, this forensic genetic individualization allowed heavy punishments upon conviction, establishing international legal precedents for prosecuting and convicting smugglers of rhino horns suitable for other endangered species traffic. The applications highlight the legal precedent of utilizing the RhODIS® system for rhinoceros crimes and provide a benchmark for implementation of similar systems for global wildlife trafficking investigations of other species.
African black and white rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis and Ceratotherium simum) are classified on as critically endangered and near threatened, respectively. Their continued survival is jeopardized by habitat loss and a surge in illegal hunting for their horns that are considered of both medicinal value and as a cultural status symbol in Asian countries, mainly Vietnam and China. More than 7,000 rhinoceros have been killed through poaching in the past decade across Africa with South Africa suffering the highest losses.
"We've seen a huge surge in the number of rhinos poached over the past couple of years simply because the financial reward far outweighed the risk," Dr. O'Brien said. "Now that we can genetically tie someone to a specific cases of poaching, the chances of successful prosecution will go up - hopefully the risk will now not be worth it."
The RhODIS® system also provides a comprehensive genetic resource that can be utilized to assist in the management of rhinoceros populations under increasing pressure due to the escalating and non-selective poaching across the African continent. As numbers decline and genetic variability is reduced in the remaining animals, the RhODIS® data is providing a tool to inform genetic management of selected populations to avoid inbreeding while maintaining reproductive potential of the survivors.
About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): Located in beautiful Fort Lauderdale, Florida, NSU is ranked among US News & World Report's Top 200 National Research Universities and is a dynamic, private research university providing high-quality educational and research programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and first-professional degree levels. Established in 1964, NSU now includes 16 colleges, the 215,000-square-foot Center for Collaborative Research, a private JK-12 grade school, the Mailman Segal Center for Human Development with specialists in Autism, the world-class NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, and the Alvin Sherman Library, Research and Information Technology Center, which is Florida's largest public library. NSU has campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, while maintaining a presence online globally. Classified as a research university with "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is one of only 50 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie's Community Engagement Classification, and is also the largest private institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education's criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Please visit http://www.
Joe Donzelli | EurekAlert!
Nanotubes built from protein crystals: Breakthrough in biomolecular engineering
15.11.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology
Insect Antibiotic Provides New Way to Eliminate Bacteria
15.11.2018 | Universität Zürich
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly
The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
15.11.2018 | Earth Sciences
15.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
15.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy