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DNA tests identify animal kingdom killers

06 Oct, 2008

Source: Landcare Research Discovery, 2008

DNA tests adopted from human forensics are being used to identify killers in the animal kingdom, which can then help efforts to protect New Zealand’s most endangered species.

“This is useful when it’s not known whether the predator is a dog, cat, rat or stoat,” Dr Dianne Gleeson of Landcare Research says.

It can provide information about whether control methods are working against target pests or if the deaths are due to a new or unexpected predator, she adds.

The scientists can extract DNA from field samples of feather fragments, eggshell remains, snagged hairs or even saliva left on a carcass.

Non-invasive DNA methods to genetically ‘fingerprint’ pest species such as possums or feral cats have also been developed. With mammalian pests, sticky ‘hair traps’ are used to pull out strands of hair with DNA-rich follicles attached. DNA derived from faecal samples is being used from possums.

The information gathered is added to a database so the scientists can keep track of what pests have been doing.

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