Durrell discover unique DNA
Scientists working for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey have used DNA sequencing to prove that the pygmy hog of Assam in India, a species so rare it was once believed extinct, belongs to a unique evolutionary line.
A team of conservation geneticists from Jersey (Channel Islands), Hyderabad, (India) and Oxford (UK) have analysed mitochondrial DNA in blood samples taken from the founders of Durrell’s captive breeding programme in Assam, and from the original specimen collected by Victorian scientist Hodgson at the British Museum.
The pig’s current Latin name is Sus salvinius which reflects the widespread belief that it is closely related to the domestic pig and other members of the Sus family which also includes wild boar.
In their paper, published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, the authors found that Victorian taxonomist Hodgson was correct in his original suspicion that the pygmy hog is indeed a unique genus and the scientific name he gave it, Porcula salvania, should be reinstated.
Dr John Fa, Scientific Director for the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and one of the paper’s co-authors, said: “This is a very significant find and one which will definitely upgrade the importance of this pig for conservation.”
Dr. Stephan Funk, Durrell’s genetics expert and senior conservation biologist, who led the research, argued that: “By sequencing the pygmy hog’s DNA for the very first time we have been able to prove that the Victorians got it right and that the species represents a completely new branch of the evolutionary tree.”
Durrell is working in the India on the conservation of the pygmy hog, in conjunction with the Assamese Forest Department and other agencies. Numbers are thought to be very low and restricted to just one national park in India.
The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is committed to preventing the species from becoming extinct and has also been breeding the animals in captivity since 1995.
The scheme has been so successful that the Trust’s breeding centre in India is now full to capacity with 70 of the animals. This year plans are being put in place to release some of these animals back into the wild for the very first time.
Posted 10 September 2007