A brand new method to amassing DNA permits scientists to seize genetic data from wildlife with out disturbing the animals or placing their security in danger. Examined on elephant dung, the protocol yielded sufficient DNA to sequence the entire genome of not solely elephants but in addition their related microbes, vegetation, parasites and different organisms — at a fraction of the price of present strategies.
The researchers report their findings within the journal Frontiers in genetics.
“Now we have mixed present methodologies in such a method that we are able to now use non-invasive samples to generate genome-wide knowledge,” he mentioned. Alida de Flaminga postdoctoral researcher on the College of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who led work with the U. of I. animal science professor Alfred Roca. “This permits us to evaluate wildlife populations with out having to throw, seize or immobilize the animals.”
Rocca mentioned amassing DNA from elephant dung is nothing new.
“Elephant poop samples have been used for many years to review elephant genome,” he mentioned. However this depends on very cumbersome strategies, usually involving chemical substances that may be harmful in some circumstances. The kits are large, troublesome to ship and need to be refrigerated, which makes the entire course of very costly.”
De Flamingh examined a comparatively cheap various: utilizing postcard-sized knowledge assortment playing cards that had been processed to stop samples from deteriorating. Earlier analysis has proven that when samples are smeared onto cardstock, they are often saved for a number of months with out refrigeration.
“Historic DNA could be problematic as a result of the samples degrade and should end in very low ranges of DNA for the goal species,” mentioned de Vlaming. Acquiring genomic knowledge from dung can equally be troublesome, with decrease concentrations of elephant DNA than is accessible from blood samples. “I believe this is a wonderful alternative to check whether or not the identical methodologies could be utilized to non-invasive samples to generate the identical sort of knowledge.”
The workforce first collected samples from the zoo’s elephants in experiments designed to find out how lengthy after defecation the droppings may yield relevant genomic knowledge. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Florida and the Dallas Zoo allowed the workforce to gather samples from African savannah elephants. The researchers retrieved the samples instantly after defecation and 24, 48 and 72 hours later.
Their assessments revealed that even a three-day-old dung produced sufficient DNA for genetic research of elephants.
The researchers then examined their method on samples collected from wild African savannah elephants. Research collaborator and co-author Rudy Van Ardean emeritus professor of zoology and entomology on the College of Pretoria, South Africa, and colleagues used the playing cards to gather elephant dung samples after figuring out a geographically and ecologically numerous group of untamed areas throughout southern Africa.
By operating the sequence knowledge obtained from the playing cards via genetic databases, the workforce discovered a treasure trove of knowledge within the dung.
“I used to be shocked,” mentioned Roca. “I assumed we’d get some elephant DNA from the playing cards, however I used to be pondering on the order of two%. Nonetheless, on common greater than 12% of elephant DNA has been attributed to.”
The researchers mentioned this was achieved with out utilizing laboratory strategies that concentrate on solely elephant DNA, which is an costly and time-consuming process. In consequence, every pattern offered an infinite quantity of knowledge in regards to the elephant, the microbial composition of its intestine, its habitat and its weight-reduction plan. Researchers have even found the DNA of butterflies and different arthropods that work together with dung after it’s deposited.
“It is actually useful to get an thought of all the things there as a result of now you may ask questions, not nearly elephant genomes but in addition about issues like their well being and weight-reduction plan and whether or not there are pathogens or parasites,” de Flamming mentioned.
In the case of elephant genomes, Roca mentioned, the outcomes are just like these obtained with blood samples.
“You may discover the interdependence of various elephant teams, the extent of genetic variety, the extent of inbreeding and the connection between elephants,” he mentioned. “And I’d say there are quite a lot of the reason why you would not need to gather blood samples from wild elephants.”
“It is attainable to do what you are able to do with blood, but it surely goes past that,” mentioned de Flaming. “Now you can do analyzes that you simply could not do earlier than with blood DNA, which solely gives details about the elephant genome.”