A genome is the complete set of DNA within an organism. Like snowflakes, every individual genome is unique. By unlocking the information in the genome, we can gauge the health of an individual or even an entire population. African Lion Safari working collaboratively with its partners to develop genomics tools that can be used to ensure endangered species in our care can be sustained until, or while, we work to conserve their wild counterparts.
The majority of genetic variations within a genome are single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. Each individual nucleotide represents a building block of DNA, and thus genes. We are using SNP data to determine relatedness among individuals to make decisions on optimal mating pairs, and to identify genes that improve fitness, for example, ensuring high fertility or resistance to disease. As a member of the Source Population Alliance program, African Lion Safari is participating in genomics research to assess individual and herd health for Scimitar-Horned Oryx and Addax using a suite of SNP markers.
In partnership with Queen’s University, African Lion Safari has developed markers to assess variation in the immune system genes in Loggerhead Shrike. Using this information, the goal is to breed shrike that have the best immune function and increase their chances of survival after release. African Lion Safari is widening research and collaborations with other researchers to ensure other species in our care, such as the Blue-throated Macaw, have similar information. In addition, we are working with collaborators at Baylor University and the Smithsonian using genomics tools to identify the immune system genes involved in Asian elephant response to Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus to assist in the development of effective drug and gene therapies for the disease.