Genetics Lab Projects
The laboratory and CCF are located in the middle of the African bush; while this sometimes presents a challenge to the laboratory work itself, it means that we have a unique access to samples thanks to the wildlife rich environment. We have a wide variety of projects that we are working on and even more projects that we would like to work on but that are waiting for funding to be started. We do work on funding all the time and also appreciate your support for our projects. The various projects that we are currently working on are:
- Cheetah ID based on scat samples to better understand where cheetahs go and to estimate animal density. Systematic sample collection will be facilitated by our scat-sniffing-dog team: Finn (who was trained and donated by Chris Bartos from the Philadelphia Zoo), Isha (who failed as a guarding dog but has a great drive), Tiger (who was trained and donated by renouned dog trainer Steve Austin).
- Increasing sample numbers and range for population structure and relatedness studies. While before we were limited to cheetahs that had been handled by CCF after being captured by farmers, now we are able to increase the sample size by including non-invasive scat samples. For this project any cheetah sample of known origin (Namibian or international) is collected and its date and location recorded.
- Modelling in order to better understand the historical demography of the Namibian cheetah. This project is part of our graduate student, Ezequiel Fabiano’s PhD work.
- ID of biomedical samples for wild cheetahs. Two wild cheetah males (the “wild boys”) included our CCF center in their home range in 2008. We find their scat several times a week in the vicinity of our cheetah enclosures. We can attribute the samples to one or the other with genetics, and then proceed to biomedical questions, such as parasite load, diet, stress and sexual hormone variation over time.
- Study of genetic traits in the Cheetah. CCF has a large collection of samples and morphological information. Some of the genetic traits that appear in the wild population in Namibia are: kinked tail, crowded incisors, palatine erosion. Although the laboratory is not ready for this work yet, we are continuously recording information and collecting samples in order to prepare for future genetic work.
- We are looking at genetic drift in the captive cheetah population compared to the wild source population. This project is going to be part of Tamara Schenekar’s PhD; Tamara first came to CCF as an intern in 2009.
- Comparison of different methods of sample collection and preservation, and measure of the effect of environmental stress on scat DNA.
- We are currently involved in a multi-national collaboration to investigate a possible genetic predisposition to a particular type of kidney disease in the cheetah.
- A collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. Eduardo Eizirik in Brazil is targeting any carnivore scat. We are using a mitochondrial marker to identify the carnivore species that are present in the area. Although in some cases it is fairly easy to identify the species from the physical aspect of the scat (i.e. Hyena), in other cases (i.e. small carnivore) the genetic species’ ID is the only way to find out. We are continuously collecting carnivore scat and reference samples for this project.
- We are always open to collaborations. So far we have worked on samples and/or hosted researchers for projects on buffalo from Caprivi (with WWF and the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism), white rhinoceros (Ongava Research Centre) and white lion (Tsau Conservancy). We are working on collaborations for carnivore identification in southern Namibia and cheetah in central Namibia, as well as soil flora in bush encroached versus open areas.
- Another project involves the understanding of predisposing factors of the Livestock guarding dogs used in Namibia to lingual squamous cell carcinoma. The clinical side of this project was pioneered by Axel Hartman (local veterinarian) and Elizabeth Lester (veterinary technician at CCF). While genetic predisposition was ruled out with pedigree analysis, we are gearing up for a metagenomic approach to search for viruses. We will rely on a collaboration for the laboratory work since we are not geared up for such a high throughput approach.