Genetics continues to garner attention as conservation tool

px Ara macao Puntarenas Province Costa Rica
A scarlet macaw (Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

Genetics continues to be a buzzword in conservation. In the last week alone we’ve seen headlines touting the sequencing of the scarlet macaw genome, that efforts to breed New Zealand’s utterly unique kiwi have failed to improve genetic diversity in the species, and that the Indian tiger population may be doomed by a genetic bottleneck — the lingering effect of the British Raj’s penchant for hunting these largest of big cats.

One of the biggest risks to species on the brink of extinction is the loss of genetic diversity that comes with drastically reduced population sizes. Even if it were possible to easily and effectively clone endangered species like the tiger, the animals created would all share whatever strengths and flaws the original progenitor possessed: in other words, it would be extremely difficult to create a robust wild population able to endure the slings and arrows of real-world existence through simple cloning.

That said, the study of genetics continues to offer novel insight into just what sort of variation does exist within species of conservation interest, and may help guide conservation efforts without being a cure-all.

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