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Preserve Species by Changing their Genetic Structure
A study on how the scientists are trying to preserve species by altering their Genetic Structure.

In the Mojave Desert in the U.S. state of Nevada, a few hundred meters above the famous Valley of Death, in a small underwater, probably the most endangered species of fish in the world has found its home. It is a silver-blue fish smaller than your smallest finger which came after millions of years of evolution to the edge of extinction. By unusual set of circumstances Cyprinodon species Diabolis (The Devils Hole Pupfish)is today reduced to only 75 living specimens.

The Cause of The Problem

Interestingly, the greatest threat to the survival of this species comes from a rather unexpected place - its DNA. In the past, these fish lived in a relatively large lake. About 20,000 years ago, the water level in the lake dropped very quickly, the landscape began to resemble the desert and the unfortunate fish found itself trapped in small physically separated lakes. So now there are nine different types of this fish, of which at least half are at the edge of extinction. The hardest case is the type of Cyprinodon Diabolis. Its population in September this year dropped to only 75 living members. Thousands of years of evolution made this fish capable of living in a very specific environment, to survive she needs water heated at thirty degrees Celsius, low oxygen saturation and a shallow part of the lake into which they retreat in the spawning season. Being an endangered species is already difficult enough, but to be an endangered species and at the same time picky regarding conditions in the environment is a totally new level of threat.

The Bad Luck

But that's not all. Besides being compromised and picky, this type of fish is followed by bad luck. In the early seventies of the last century American biologists have built three artificial lakes in which they tried to grow the backup fish from Devil's Cave (the location where the fish are located), to save them from collapse. Valves and other mechanical components cluttered up almost daily, and most of the fish died. When we say that this is a bad luck, then we really mean it, after completed repairs remaining fish were killed by a lightning strike that destroyed a generator for electricity, and that allowed the maintenance of very specific conditions in which this little fish could survive.

However, luck smiled to the fish that were in the third lake named Point of Rocks. Specifically, in this isolated population has somehow got the other related species of small fish and its DNA soon spread through the population like a wildfire. After about 50 years, every fish that was in the lake was a descendant of "intruders" who is who knows by what combination of circumstances made it into the lake. Scientists are able to very easily conclude this, as the hybrids between the two species had one pair of gills more than original type which they had tried to preserve. After some time, biologists who worked on the project, decided to move the fish into the hatchery. Unlike Cyprinodon Diabolis, which this facility led to the edge of extinction, a new hybrid species has simply exploded. "Huge aquariums we had were filled with new fish in very short time from top to bottom. Just a few decades ago, this species was dying, and now it suddenly experiences an unexpected increase of the population, "says Andy Martin, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado, head of the group of scientists who investigated the specificity of DNA in a new hybrid species.

For Martin, this fact was clear evidence of what went wrong with the species Cyprinodon Diabolis – It was a genetic mutation. On the positive side, now that the diagnosis is finally established, there is a hope is that it is possible to find a drug that could save this fish. Martin claims to have a plan to rescue "the devil fish” from collapse, but for all those people who have in the past engaged in saving the various species from extinction, this idea probably will sound like a heresy tough.

The New Logic

For many years, scientists who were trying to preserve plant and animal species kept the same simple logic: it is necessary to protect the species X, as it existed at the time Y, in the place Z. Of course, evolution does not know the logic of this type, and changing is the only thing we can expect in all living beings on the planet. And here we come to Martin's heretical idea - he thinks that, in this case, the solution is not the preservation of species X as it was at the point Z, but the "breeding" of X species genes which would enable it to do what the evolution didn’t – the change. In other words, Martin wants to enrich this endangered species with the genes of her cousins - the type Cyprinodon nevadensis. those species have the common ancestor, and, interestingly, they live in small lakes just a few kilometers away. Martin's idea is pretty simple - throw a few individuals Cyprinodon nevadensis in the lake with the remaining 75 Diabolis and - wait. These few intruders would probably allow endangered species to stop spreading defective genes, says Martin. By the introduction of new genetic material this species could be saved, but the question is whether the individuals that survive could still be considered the same species.

This way, the small fish from the Mojave Desert have made us think about the one originally philosophical question of our relationship to the nature. It is already clear that we are likely to encounter in the future a variety of other endangered species, and the way we treat the problem of fish from Devil's Valley could become a precedent for all future cases. Scientists involved in the preservation of animal species therefore could become architects of the completely new ecosystem. Approach they have used until now was restricted to the exclusion of individuals from the wild and maintaining them in controlled and less risky conditions. But with this new approach, scientists will by manipulating the genome, practically create new species, which will contain smaller or larger fragments of those species they have tried to preserve. The idea is definitely controversial and Martin currently doesn’t have the support of the institution he is employed in. However, around the world there are a lot of endangered species and some are already preserved from extinction in a manner similar to that advocated by Martin.

Written by Sasa (sale0303)
[quote='Charles' pid='2706' dateline='1357617134']
A study on how the scientists are trying to preserve species by altering their Genetic Structure.

In the Mojave Desert in the U.S. state of Nevada, a few hundred meters above the famous Valley of Death, in a small underwater, probably the most endangered species of fish in the world has found its home. It is a silver-blue fish smaller than your smallest finger which came after millions of years of evolution to the nature...................

Dear Charles,

I always love to read on topics related to "preservation of endangered species". Endangered species is one of my favorite topic.
Your article is really interesting and it gives valuable information on "how
genetic alteration can lead to survival of species".........
I appreciate and thank you for starting a post on this interesting topic.

Another such method of preserving the endangered species is Captive breeding. It is a process of breeding animals in human controlled environments with restricted settings including restricted entries. These controlled environments are either wildlife reserves, zoos or other suitable facilities which can positively help in conservation. No-doubt, such program helps in successful preservation of many endangered species. Few living examples include successful breeding of cheetahs in which the survival from 1 to 12 months and greater than 12 months of age was 72 and 67 % respectively. This program was established between the de Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife centre in which 242 litters were born with a total of around 780 cubs.
Another successful example is of wild Tasmanian devils breeding. As there is no wild Tasmanian devils female left their survival relied solely on captive breeding and its new generations.
Though captive breeding is continuously adding new names to its success list, but at the same time, it has some limitations/drawbacks.
With captive breeding, genetic diversity is reduced and is obvious due to limited gene pool. But this is a good strategy to save animals rather than completely going their number down to zero. Another drawback is that it also reduces species fitness (Due to weak immune system and declining wild type characteristics).
In spite of these drawbacks, today captive breeding is a great program which is helping in preservation of many endangered species, without which, today we would have missed many species from our planet, forever!
I believe, today we would have seen living dinosaurs, if programs like captive breeding or similar such other would have been there during either Triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous period !

Thanks you Charles for starting such interesting post !
Thanks ExpertScience. Being the author of this article, Charles requested me to post a reply to this thread. I'm very glad you like the post as that is the field I also enjoy to explore.
All the best!
Revival of the species

Another way of preserving the species is actually by reviving them. There is a lot of controversy around this - some people are saying that the resources spent into the revival of species can actually be spent into protecting the existing ones that are endangered, especially since the “reviving” is a lot more demanding process. Moreover, some of the species died due to the loss of their living habitat, which still wasn’t recovered, and the whole project could be in vain.

However, the idea sounds great and interesting nonetheless, because if the project of reviving is successful, not only we might see some recently extinct species like passenger pigeons, but we might see some ancient ones like mammoths. Yes, mammoths…

One way of reviving the species is by cloning them. There are several ways to do this, but basically the DNA of an extinct species must be isolated from what they’ve left (like frozen tissues, for example). The next thing is to insert the DNA into the cells of closest living relatives which will be surrogate parents. If the whole nucleus of an extinct species is found, we can completely replace it with the one in the egg. However, if there are only the pieces of DNA, they can be replaced with the ones in the existing genomes. This might produce species similar to the one that is extinct but not 100% the same. It should suffice though, because we are talking about revival.

Important thing to note is that enough number of organisms should be cloned in the start from different pieces of the extinct animal’s DNA in order to make a viable population.

Cloning is not the only way revival could be achieved – selective breading might also do the trick. In the case of aurochs, the ancestor of domestic cattle, its traits could be determined by taking the sample of its tissues, and then existing cattle might be selectively bread in order to “accumulate” the traits of extinct animal in small group of individuals. This way, every new generation would be more similar to aurochs.

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