A new DNA technique involving snow leopards and similar to a pregnancy test could provide a breakthrough in how endangered species in the wild are monitored.

Traditional methods for tracking animals include electronically tagging them or analysing their faeces by sending samples away to laboratories.

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But this takes time, money and energy.

Now it is hoped the new paper-based test will mean experts can identify the creatures’ faeces immediately in the field.

DNA sequence
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DNA technology is helping to advance conservation techniques. Credit: Buzzplay

The high-tech paper is dipped into animal droppings or tissue and changes colour if the creature is positively identified, similar to a pregnancy test.

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Conservation geneticist Dr Natalie Schmitt and her team have already proved the DNA method can work in snow leopards after successful tests in the Himalayas.

The scientists are now moving on to other animals including reindeer and big cat species including tigers and jaguars.

The test could be used to track progress and numbers following the reintroduction of animals into certain areas.

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For example assessing the return of wolves to Europe and enabling farmers to identify whether they had killed livestock.

Conservation geneticist Dr Natalie Schmitt works with species worldwide. Credit: Dr Natalie Schmitt
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Geneticist Dr Natalie Schmitt works with species worldwide. Credit: Dr Natalie Schmitt

Dr Schmitt told Sky News: “We can use this technique to develop tests for any species, even plants, on anything containing DNA including faeces, skin and bone.”

She added: “Naturally animal conservation campaigners, animal protection officers and scientists are showing interest.

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“Our test could help track numbers, migration routes, positively identify specific species and even differentiate between legal and illegal products.

“Companies are also interested in understanding environmental impact on wildlife. Governments and customs authorities could use the technology to identify and reduce trafficking of endangered species, and even be used in some forensic cases.”

Identifying species by their DNA means there are no limits to the types of animals this technology could eventually be used for.

DNA from garden-dwelling hedgehogs through to endangered monkeys and ancient mammoth tissue could be identified over time.

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