About This ProjectMarkhor, the national animal of Pakistan, are majestic wild goats on the brink of extinction. North American zoos and captive breeding programs have the potential to maintain the critical genetic diversity and ancient lineages of the Markhor subpopulation. To improve the breeding program, we will perform genetic analysis to establish a detailed record of individual and lineage diversity.
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What is the context of this research?
With recent developments in genomic analysis, it has been made possible to assess how genetically different an individual is from another. When looking at members of a small population, genomic analysis can be significantly beneficial when trying to increase population numbers by selective breeding. Currently, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has a program geared towards maintaining populations of endangered species that are kept in captivity; the Species Survival Plan (SSP). Institutions that are AZA accredited coordinate with each other using the SSP to selectively breed their endangered animals to increase population numbers and decrease inbreeding and hybridization with similar species e.g. domestic goats breeding with wild goats. Our research is focused on the markhor goat, Capra falconeri heptneri which is currently listed with the IUCN Red List as endangered.
Using blood and hair samples, we plan to analyze microsatellite markers within the DNA of each individual goat from institutions throughout the United States that house the markhor. Every living species has DNA that is composed of nucleotides labeled as A, T, C, and G. Microsatellites are repeats of these nucleotides within the DNA code e.g. ATGGTCACACATCAG. The markhor that reside in the United States originated from a population 17 founder goats. When the members of this population reproduced they passed on their DNA code and the microsatellite markers that exist within it. Genetic analysis of each goats microsatellite markers will allow us to compare them together and determine how genetically different they are i.e. the more closely related individuals are to each other, the more microsatellite markers they will have in common. When selectively breeding, one would want to mate two goats that are genetically different to prevent genetic disorders and disease that will ultimately decrease the population size.
The studbook (the record of individual genetic variability for breeders) coordinates with AZA accredited institutions throughout the United States that have markhor. Detailed records that are maintained in this studbook decide which institution receives certain goats for mating. Previous genetic analysis of the markors DNA has been assessed but it was only through the mother’s lineage. We propose to analyze a different part of the DNA that will broaden the results obtained. This genetic analysis will contain data from the mother and the father’s lineage providing a more detailed record of genetic diversity which will significantly enhance the studbook and better the breeding program.
Our research will consist of two phases. The first will utilize blood and hair samples (DNA) that have been obtained from three markhor. We will use these samples to construct a microsatellite variability map that will be used as a platform to compare the blood and hair samples (DNA) with the other markhor throughout the United States (phase II). All of the institutions that have markhor goats have agreed to submit blood and hair samples for this research and we plan to obtain them after the next round of annual physicals.
What is the significance of this project?
Overall, this research will affect every markhor individual throughout the United States. The current herds in captivity are reproducing at a rate that is necessary to maintain a stabilized population. However, they are producing more females than males for reasons unknown. This skew in the population can significantly decrease the genetic variability of the herds and increase chances for inbreeding that can overall damage an already endangered species.
By obtaining the genetic variability data from this research we will be able to assess the following: to be able to better select individual goats to mate in effort to prevent inbreeding due to the natural selective pressures that have presented itself, compare the known microsatellite makers of the domesticated goat to determine if any of the markhor have been subject to hybridization, and provide the caregivers of the markhor the knowledge necessary to provide a successful mating scenerio.
What are the goals of the project?
Each individual markhor has a name and as it is genotyped, our backers will learn more about its ancient lineage and possibly about a more modern lineage - whether it carries genetic markers from domestic goats and may not be used in the markhor breeding program.
As progress is achieved, updates will be provided to our backers of our findings. At the conclusion of the project, it is our intensions to publish the data collected. All donors that have contributed in providing the means to better the breeding program for the endangered markhor will be acknowledged in the publication.
The proposed budget is detailed to obtain the proper supplies and the use of facilities and equipment for phase I of the research. Additional funding will be sought for phase II once we complete phase I and have established a reference markhor microsatellite genome variability map. The main expenses are allotted to creating DNA libraries and completing single-end sequencing and genomic analysis.
Extra funding that is obtained will go directly towards phase II of the research. For a detailed summary of the proposed budget of both phase I and phase II can be found here.
Meet the Team
Team BioCassandra Elliott is currently finishing a BS in biology with anticipation on continuing her education pursuing a MS in genetics and molecular biology. Her work with the markhor goats started as an animal behavior project assessing the behavior of a female before and after the introduction of a male for breeding during mating season. Her continued interest in this endangered animal and affiliations with the Rosamond Gifford Zoo has led to the formation of the current genetics research to improve the breeding program.
Janet Huie is currently the Director of Research and Development at NovaSterilis Inc. As a lecture at SUNY Cortland, she has taught courses and labs in microbiology and medicine, cell biology, genetics, and anatomy and physiology. As a mentor and research partner, her extensive knowledge in molecular biology and genetics allows her to be a valuable asset to the improvement of the markhor breeding program.
I am a graduate from SUNY Cortland, NY with a B.S. in biology. I plan on moving forward with graduate school, obtaining a degree in conservation biology working with both wild and captive animals. My interests are currently focused on captive breeding programs, specifically with the endangered markhor goat. We aim to use genetics to aid in the selective breeding process to increase genetic diversity and the survival of the species.
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