The role of genomics in conservation and reproductive sciences.

Research paper by Warren E WE Johnson, Klaus K Koepfli

Indexed on: 06 Aug '14Published on: 06 Aug '14Published in: Advances in experimental medicine and biology


Genomics, the study of an organism's genome through DNA analyses, is a central part of the biological sciences and is rapidly changing approaches to animal conservation. The genomes of thousands of organisms, including vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants have been sequenced and the results annotated, augmented and refined through the application of new approaches in transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics that enhance the characterization of messenger RNA, proteins, and metabolites. The same computational advances that are catalyzing "-omic" technologies and novel approaches to address fundamental research questions are facilitating bioinformatic analysis and enabling access of primary and derivative data and results in public and private databases (Zhao and Grant. Curr Pharm Biotechnol 12:293-305, 2011). These tools will be used to provide fundamental advances in our understanding of reproductive biology across vertebrate species and promise to revolutionize our approach to conservation biology.The vulnerability of animal populations and their genetic diversity is well documented, as are the myriad of causes and threats to their persistence, including habitat degradation and loss, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, and climate change. Of the 64,283 vertebrates assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in their 2012 Red List of Threatened Species, 7,250 or ~11 % are threatened with extinction, a percentage that has been increasing steadily for at least the last decade ( www.iucnredlist.org ). Among many of these species, important genetic diversity has been lost, thereby increasing their vulnerability as genetically diverse populations have higher fitness, generally are more resilient to environmental challenges, and have more adaptive potential (Reed and Frankham Conserv Biol 17:230-237, 2003; Luikart et al. Nat Rev Genet 4:981-994, 2003). In turn, genetic variation within and among populations may be essential to maintaining functional ecosystems, evolutionary process and will impact future food supplies, human health, biomaterial development and geopolitics (Myers and Knoll Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 98:5389-5392, 2001; Templeton et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 98:5426-5432, 2001). Therefore, conservation of genetic diversity is a social, cultural, scientific, and economic prerogative and is the key to adaptation in the uncertain future of a human-dominated environment. Once lost, genetic resources are nearly impossible to regain, increasing the urgency of fundamental global approaches (e.g. www.cbd.int/sp/targets ).In this chapter we provide a review of current research and recent advances in biotechnology and genomic approaches for animal conservation and the management of genetic resources, with an emphasis on reproductive sciences. It is intended to provide information and insights for research and to provoke thoughts on how to take advantage of these opportunities.