News / Society

DNA Taken From Footprints for the First Time; Could be the Key to Helping Protect Rare and Endangered Animals [PHOTO]

By Marisa Lewis | September 06, 2014 10:44 PM EDT

Scientists have been able to isolate DNA from footprints for the first time - specifically polar bear footprints left in the snow on an Arctic Island. NBC News reports that this breakthrough could significantly boost conservation efforts, as DNA taken from footprints could allow experts to study animal movements more cheaply and easily without disturbing habitats or harming wildlife.

According to The Guardian, scientists were able to collect the snow during a WWF expedition to Norway's Svalbard Islands high up in the Arctic Circle. The snow was taken from 10 footprints from one set of tracks made by a female polar bear, and was later melted in a laboratory in order to collect skin cells.

DNA Specialist Eva Bellemain told NBC News that the process was being refined in order to better identify individual bears from the DNA left behind. Polar bears are of special interest to the study, as they are vulnerable to extinction due to the destruction of their habitat - unfortunately, climate change is melting the sea ice in the Arctic at an unprecedented pace.

Furthermore, Reuters reports that polar bear tracks will be helpful to the study due to the fact that DNA breaks down much more slowly in the cold than in the tropics. However, polar bears are not the only species to be tracked at the moment. The Guardian reports that the new technique will be used to track snow leopards as well, and scientists hope extend its use to footprints in the mud.

Arnaud Lyet of WWF stated, "This method would be an invaluable tool for conservation biology... At present, researchers use expensive, invasive techniques to track the population size and health of wildlife such as polar bears. Using footprint DNA, we could dramatically cut the investment required, so monitoring populations could be done more easily," conveying his enthusiasm for the tactic.

Hopefully, soon single cells will be enough to slow the disappearance of endangered wildlife.

Tagged :  DNA, Footprint, Polar Bear, Conservation, Endangered Species


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