Conservation Genetics - Techniques


Specific genetic techniques are used to assess the genomes of a species regarding specific conservation issues as well as general population structure. This analysis can be done in two ways, with current DNA of individuals or historic DNA.

Techniques for analysiing the differences between individuals and populations include

  1. Alloenzymes
  2. Random Fragment Length Polymorphisms
  3. Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphisms
  4. Random Amplification of Polymorphic DNA
  5. Single strand conformation polymorphism
  6. minisatellites
  7. microsatellites .
  8. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms
  9. Sequence analysis
  10. DNA fingerprinting

These different techniques focus on different variable areas of the genomes within animals and plants. The specific information that is required determines which techniques are used and which parts of the genome are analysed. For example, mitochondrial DNA in animals has a high substitution rate, which makes it useful for identifying differences between individuals. However, it is only inherited in the female line, and the mitochondrial genome is relatively small. In plants, the mitochondrial DNA has very high rates of structural mutations, so is rarely used for genetic markers, as the chloroplast genome can be used instead. Other sites in the genome that are subject to high mutation rates such as the Major Histocompatibility Complex, and the microsatellites and minisatellites are also frequently used.

These techniques can provide information on long-term conservation of genetic diversity and expound demographic and ecological matters such as taxonomy.

Another technique is using historic DNA for genetic analysis. Historic DNA is important because it allows geneticists to understand how species reacted to changes to conditions in the past. This is a key to understanding the reactions of similar species in the future.

Techniques using historic DNA include looking at preserved remains found in museums and caves. Museums are used because there is a wide range of species that are available to scientists all over the world. The problem with museums is that, historical perspectives are important because understanding how species reacted to changes in conditions in the past is a key to understanding reactions of similar species in the future. Evidence found in caves provides a longer perspective and does not disturb the animals.

Another technique that relies on specific genetics of an individual is non invasive monitoring, which uses extracted DNA from organic material that an individual leaves behind, such as a feather. This too avoids disrupting the animals and can provide information about the sex, movement, kinship and diet of an individual.

Other more general techniques can be used to correct genetic factors that lead to extinction and risk of extinction. For example, when minimizing inbreeding and increasing genetic variation multiple steps can be taken. Increasing heterozygosity through immigration, increasing the generational interval through cryopreservation or breeding from older animals, and increasing the effective population size through equalization of family size all helps minimize inbreeding and its effects. Deleterious alleles arise through mutation, however certain recessive ones can become more prevalent due to inbreeding. Deleterious mutations that arise from inbreeding can be removed by purging, or natural selection. Populations raised in captivity with the intent of being reintroduced in the wild suffer from adaptations to captivity.

Inbreeding depression, loss of genetic diversity, and genetic adaptation to captivity are disadvantageous in the wild, and many of these issues can be dealt with through the aforementioned techniques aimed at increasing heterozygosity. In addition creating a captive environment that closely resembles the wild and fragmenting the populations so there is less response to selection also help reduce adaptation to captivity.

Solutions to minimize the factors that lead to extinction and risk of extinction often overlap because the factors themselves overlap. For example, deleterious mutations are added to populations through mutation, however the deleterious mutations conservation biologists are concerned with are ones that are brought about by inbreeding, because those are the ones that can be taken care of by reducing inbreeding. Here the techniques to reduce inbreeding also help decrease the accumulation of deleterious mutations.

Read more about this topic:  Conservation Genetics

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