A brand new method to gathering 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 whole genome of not solely elephants but additionally 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.
“We now have mixed current methodologies in such a means that we will 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 enables us to evaluate wildlife populations with out having to throw, seize or immobilize the animals.”
Rocca mentioned gathering DNA from elephant dung is nothing new.
“Elephant poop samples have been used for many years to check elephant genome,” he mentioned. However this depends on very cumbersome strategies, typically involving chemical substances that may be harmful in some instances. The kits are big, tough to ship and need to be refrigerated, which makes the entire course of very costly.”
De Flamingh examined a comparatively cheap different: utilizing postcard-sized knowledge assortment playing cards that had been processed to stop samples from deteriorating. Earlier analysis has proven that after samples are smeared onto cardstock, they are often saved for a number of months with out refrigeration.
“Historical DNA might 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 tough, with decrease concentrations of elephant DNA than is obtainable from blood samples. “I believe this is a superb alternative to check whether or not the identical methodologies might be utilized to non-invasive samples to generate the identical kind of knowledge.”
The crew first collected samples from the zoo’s elephants in experiments designed to find out how lengthy after defecation the droppings might yield relevant genomic knowledge. The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in Florida and the Dallas Zoo allowed the crew to gather samples from African savannah elephants. The researchers retrieved the samples instantly after defecation and 24, 48 and 72 hours later.
Their checks 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 various group of untamed areas throughout southern Africa.
By operating the sequence knowledge obtained from the playing cards via genetic databases, the crew discovered a treasure trove of knowledge within the dung.
“I used to be stunned,” mentioned Roca. “I assumed we’d get some elephant DNA from the playing cards, however I used to be considering on the order of two%. Nevertheless, 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 supplied an unlimited quantity of knowledge in regards to the elephant, the microbial composition of its intestine, its habitat and its weight loss 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 concept of the whole lot there as a result of now you’ll be able to ask questions, not nearly elephant genomes but additionally about issues like their well being and weight loss plan and whether or not there are pathogens or parasites,” de Flamming mentioned.
On the subject of elephant genomes, Roca mentioned, the outcomes are just like these obtained with blood samples.
“You’ll be able to discover the interdependence of various elephant teams, the extent of genetic range, the extent of inbreeding and the connection between elephants,” he mentioned. “And I’d say there are plenty of the explanation why you would not need to acquire blood samples from wild elephants.”
“It is potential to do what you are able to do with blood, nevertheless it goes past that,” mentioned de Flaming. “Now you can do analyzes that you simply could not do earlier than with blood DNA, which solely offers details about the elephant genome.”