How Can Genetic Data Be Used in Biodiversity Research?

When DNA Speaks of Nature — the Use of Genetic Data in Biodiversity Research


The biodiversity we see round us is a product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution on the earth. To perceive how animals and vegetation have advanced or come to exist on this planet, one could make use of the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules which are current in cells of most dwelling organisms. DNA supplies organic directions which are inherited from one era to the following, often known as “the process of descent with modification”. The skill to make use of this document of historical past saved in DNA is a vital a part of a biologist’s toolkit. It permits us to grasp the tree of life – the origin of species, the method of species formation, evolution of kind and performance, relationships between organisms and their response (evolutionary variations) to environmental change.

Certain mutations in genes, modifications in DNA sequences, can translate to modifications in proteins that they encode, giving rise to variants referred to as allozymes for enzymatic proteins. In the 1970s, researchers used allozyme evaluation, which may detect protein variants utilizing their electrical cost, as a proxy to check genetic variation. By the 1980s, over a thousand animal species had been screened at tens of allozyme loci, which allowed comparisons throughout totally different teams. One research discovered that cheetahs in South Africa had very low genetic variation due to a drastic discount of their inhabitants measurement in current historical past. This lack of people and the ensuing inbreeding amongst shut family contributed to their low genetic variety.

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Photo Credit: Jahanavi Joshi

The improvement of Sanger sequencing within the late 1970s and polymerase chain response (PCR) within the mid 1980s revolutionized molecular biology by permitting us to make copies of DNA from small portions of samples and figuring out the sequence of models forming the DNA sequence. Using these strategies to generate DNA sequences throughout a number of people and species allowed scientists to instantly view the genetic materials, detect mutations and thus measure genetic variation. In one of many earliest research utilizing DNA sequence information, researchers in contrast a single gene throughout species to construct an evolutionary tree classifying dwelling organisms into three broad teams. Since then, a number of genes and non-protein coding DNA sequences have been mixed and analyzed to determine relationships between species. For instance, a big international evolutionary tree of flowering vegetation has helped us perceive the traits that helped some teams to broaden throughout novel environments. DNA sequence information has been particularly helpful in identification of morphologically cryptic species, which can’t be differentiated primarily based on their exterior look.

Apart from understanding the evolutionary relationships between totally different species, DNA sequences are additionally used to grasp how genetic variation is geographically distributed inside a species or carefully associated species. Starting from the 1970s and 80s, maternally inherited genes have been extensively utilized in such research. They have revealed, for instance, that populations of a number of marine species diverged between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with the closure of the Isthmus of Panama. Such sex-linked markers have additionally been used to check the social construction of animals, the place they’ve proven that feminine humpback whales comply with particular migration routes over generations which are totally different throughout ocean basins. In addition to utilizing gene sequences, non-protein coding areas of DNA resembling microsatellites, have been extensively used to grasp relationships between people inside a species. A current research seemed on the results of forest fragmentation on genetic connectivity of 4 mammals in central India utilizing DNA obtained from fecal samples. Microsatellite information discovered that anthropogenic elements had various impacts on species relying on their biology, with the biggest influence on tigers, adopted by leopards, sloth bears and jungle cats.

Rapid advances in sequencing know-how now enable us to transcend sequencing genes to sequencing massive stretches of DNA throughout an organism’s whole genetic materials. These genomic approaches use parallel sequencing to generate tons of of gigabases of DNA sequence information, that comes with analytical challenges associated to excessive computational energy and complicated mathematical fashions. Many of those strategies may also use hint quantities of DNA from the pure surroundings, which permits researchers to shortly survey the biodiversity of poorly studied areas and taxa. For instance, hundreds of DNA sequences from soil samples enabled scientists to estimate the invertebrate variety of a distant island in New Zealand. High-resolution genome information may also help researchers inform aside carefully associated species when conventional genetic markers fail, as has been executed in cichlid fish in Lake Victoria, Africa. Technological advances have additionally allowed researchers to make use of poor high quality DNA, as within the case of jap lowland gorillas the place outdated museum specimens helped scientists perceive the genetic results of extreme inhabitants declines in current historical past.


Bharti Dharapuram is a postdoctoral researcher on the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology. She is considering processes driving patterns of species distribution and genetic variety, particularly in poorly studied terrestrial and marine invertebrates.

Jahnavi Joshi is an Assistant Professor on the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular biology, Hyderabad, India. She research systematics, biogeography, diversification, and group meeting in Asian tropical forests primarily utilizing arthropods as a mannequin system.

This collection is an initiative by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), underneath their programme ‘Nature Communications’ to encourage nature content material in all Indian languages. To know extra about birds and nature, be part of The Flock.


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