Monday, March 5, 2018

Dead but Not Forgotten: Elephant Genomic History

A study conducted by scientists at The University of Texas at Austin recently sequenced the genomes of 14 living and extinct elephant species to try and understand the potential gene flow within this group. This was done by mapping out the genome of living species such as the African forest elephant, the Savanna elephant, the Asian elephants, along with other like species, and then compared them with the genome of extinct species such as the woolly mammoth, the straight-tusked elephant, and the American mastodon. By doing this they were able to see the decent pattern of modern day elephants. One of the many things they discovered was that the straight tusked elephant, which went extinct approximately 120 thousand years ago, and the present-day forest elephants dissented from a related lineage.  Additionally, we have come to learn that in both past and present elephant genomes there seems to be a high amount of hybridization which has led to the group’s current speciation. 
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One of the more notable discovers that came from this study was that African forest elephants and the Savanna elephant appeared to have diverged over 2 million years ago and have been genetically separated for around 500 thousand years. This discovery’s significance lies in the fact that it ends the debate of whether these two types of elephants are separate species which, evidently, they are. Because of this, these two groups of elephants can now receive more effective conservation efforts, as they can be specifically geared, and funded, to the individual species environmental resource requirements, and threats (Daley). With the advancements in genomics, both in efficiency and accuracy, demonstrated here with the successful mapping of the elephant’s genome, its applications and implications are vast and profound to say the least.
And here is the link to the original study that

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