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 an entire population. The majority of genetic variations within a genome are single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. Each individual nucleotide represents a building block of DNA. Sequences of these building blocks code information in our genes.
African Lion Safari is working collaboratively with its partners to develop genomics tools that can be used to ensure endangered species in our care can be sustained while we work to conserve their wild counterparts. We are using SNP data to determine relatedness among individuals, ensuring that we choose optimal mating pairs, and to identify genes that improve fitness, for example, ensuring high fertility or resistance to disease.
African Lion Safari is a partner on the Canada Earth Biogenome Project (CEBP). We are leading efforts to create high quality reference genomes for Canadian Species at Risk for which a recovery plan identifies that ex situ conservation management can assist in recovering species. These species are the focus of the Canadian Species Initiative, a joint endeavour between African Lion Safari and Wildlife Preservation Canada.
African Lion Safari is working collaboratively with CEBP, Queen’s University, and the Canadian Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Recovery Implementation Group (CEMRRIG). This collaboration has led to the development of a participatory workshop process by which a genomics plan will be made to support recovery actions for species at risk. We will be using the same process over time to develop plans for other focal Canadian species.
In partnership with Queen’s University, African Lion Safari has developed markers to assess variation across the genome and specifically in the immune system genes in Loggerhead Shrike. We are using this information to guide management of our conservation breeding program and ensure we produce birds that have the best chance of survival after release into the wild.
African Lion Safari is widening its research and collaborations with other organizations to incorporate genomics into the management of the Blue-throated Macaw. This is to ensure genetic diversity, which will assist with conservation in their native range in Bolivia.
African Lion Safari is working with collaborators at Baylor University and the Smithsonian using genomics tools to identify genetic biomarkers that will help understand Asian elephant response to Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus. Ultimately, we hope this information will be used to guide the development of effective drug and gene therapies for the disease.
As a member of the Conservation Centers for Species Survival’s 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.