SOURCE: Western University of Health Sciences

Western University of Health Sciences

September 29, 2009 16:15 ET

Western University of Health Sciences' College of Veterinary Medicine Team Receives Grant to Save Endangered Species

POMONA, CA--(Marketwire - September 29, 2009) - The Institute of Museum and Library Services has awarded a National Leadership Grant of $100,000 to a team from Western University of Health Sciences' College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) to improve the breeding programs of captive endangered species.

CVM faculty members and co-principal investigators Margaret Barr, DVM, PhD, Kristopher Irizarry, PhD, and Janis Joslin, DVM, will develop a strategy for using genetic analysis to maximize the breeding of snow leopards to enhance species diversity and robustness.

Snow leopards will not be the only beneficiaries of this research, as the results are expected to be applicable to many other endangered species.

"Our goal is to have a good method for using genomic information as part of the decision-making process for the management of captive endangered species," Dr. Barr said.

Snow leopards were chosen because they're on the brink of extinction and they're susceptible to a number of infectious diseases. They have been carefully managed by an international studbook since 1976. About 550 snow leopards are maintained in captivity worldwide, with about 150 managed by the North American Species Survival Plan (SSP).

With a limited population, and therefore a limited gene pool, you have to be very careful which animals are bred together to enhance survivability of the species and to not cause harm, Dr. Barr said. Historically, zoos have carefully managed the breeding of the snow leopards and other endangered species by using a studbook to maximize genetic diversity of the population, much as dog breeders look to pick the most unrelated pair of dogs to breed. This project will give zoos another tool to identify the best breeding pairs to sustain the captive breeding populations.

The WesternU team will collect DNA samples of snow leopards and determine a draft of the snow leopard genome to identify specific genes associated with immune function.

Project partners include Todd Mockler, PhD, from Oregon State University, who will be responsible for sequencing the snow leopard genome, and Jay Tetzloff from Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History, the Propagation Manager for the Snow Leopard Species Survival Plan, who will assist with the studbook analysis and identifying individual snow leopards for genetic analysis.

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