Home Science Laboratory comes up with technique to identify wildlife species from DNA

Laboratory comes up with technique to identify wildlife species from DNA

Laboratory comes up with technique to identify wildlife species from DNA

Species authentication from scat and tissue samples helps in detecting illegal wildlife trade

The Molecular Biology Lab at the Government Arts College (GAC) in Udhagamandalam has designed and standardised a DNA amplification technique that will allow researchers to identify the species and sex of tigers and leopards from scat and tissue samples.

The results were published in Molecular Biology Reports, a scientific journal recently. The authors of the paper note that species authentication from scat and tissue samples is essential for detecting illegal wildlife trade and for formulating conservation strategies.

As DNA in old scat from tigers has a high chance of degradation, very short, specific, DNA sequences can be targeted to identify the species and sex of tigers and leopards, the researchers said. Previous allele-specific (gene variant) methods at species identification targeted a specific nucleotide for amplification, but researchers at the GAC also altered a nucleotide, resulting in precise species and sex-specific amplification, making identification quick, and extremely efficient.

R. Sanil, associate professor, Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology, and one of the co-authors of the paper, said the technique would allow for species identification for a fraction of the cost it would take otherwise.

The researchers collected a total of 190 scat samples of tigers and leopards from across the Nilgiris and the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, including 37 samples in different stages of deterioration from the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Using the new techniques, they were able to identify 107 samples as belonging to tigers, 74 from leopards, six as members of the Canid family, while only three were unidentifiable.

The papers were authored by research scholars and professors working at the GAC with the co-operation of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department – Nittu George, P.M.Bhavana, T.T.Shameer, B.Ramakrishnan, R. Archana, K.K.Kaushal, G.Mohan, M. Jyoti and R. Sanil.

K.K. Kaushal, Field Director of MTR and co-author of the paper, said that DNA analysis was of extreme importance and the fact that there was such an excellent lab for analysis was a great benefit for the forest department.

B. Ramakrishnan, assistant professor at the GAC and co-author of the paper, said that in the future, building a DNA database of tigers in the wild could help in tracing wildlife crimes. “For instance, if a tiger or a leopard is poached in Tamil Nadu and found in a different part of the country, we could use these techniques to identify the exact animal that was killed, its home range and other aspects, which could further strengthen the forest department’s efficacy at fighting wildlife crimes,” said Mr. Ramakrishnan.

College principal M. Easwaramurthi said that such insightful research was a testament to the excellent students, faculty and facilities available at the college. J. Ebanaser, Head, Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology, said the research further cemented the credentials of the department in training students for a career in wildlife research and conservation.

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