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AU Scholars | Felix meets Conservation Genomics

Spring 2015

  • Goals: To develop tests to determine the presence of endangered cat species (tiger, lynx etc) in unknown biological samples and to develop/perfect tests to diagnose wild-domestic (ex. domestic and ocelot) cat hybrids.
  • Specific Research Skills: Students will learn the fundamentals of conservation genomics research. This includes learning molecular biology techniques used in the field: DNA extraction, PCR, gel electrophoresis, cloning and DNA sequencing. Students will also learn how to analyze DNA and entire genomes using computational biology. Finally, students will learn about the threats and issues surrounding wild-cats (Felids) at risk of extinction and will ultimately participate in attempts to recover these animals.
  • Why take this course: Each of us either has or knows someone with 1, 2, even 3 or more, domestic cats. They are ubiquitous in our society and some places these furry friends are even considered pests. However, most of their wild-cousins are not so lucky. Right now, fewer than 3,000 tigers exist in the wild and populations of almost every other big cat are decreasing. You can help reverse these trends. Using a specific genetic marker, we will develop new biological tests to detect the DNA of wild-endangered species in biological samples. With the perfection of these tests we can prosecute poachers and traders who violate international law. These tests will also help conservationists monitor wild populations as they struggle to recover. Another biological threat looms even closer to home. Living among our typical house pets and wild-cat and domestic cat hybrids. While these cats make beautiful and playful pets, owners are at times surprised when their precious kittens begin acting more like wild animals than lap pals. Sometimes these animals are tragically abandoned, leaving shelters ill-prepared to identify and care for these unique creatures. Again, you can help. Using a special genetic marker, we will develop tests to determine the wild-cat content of suspected wild-domestic cat hybrids. This test could save the lives of shelter animals and inform pet owners about the ancestry of their beloved Felix.