Deer Genetics and Population Health

Deer Images


DNA to reconstruct pedigrees of deer with Chronic Wasting Disease

Holly Ernest, Bruce Hoar, Jay Well, and Katherine O'Rourke

Molecular genetic data provide powerful tools for genealogy reconstruction to reveal mechanisms underlying disease ecology. Kin-related close social spacing in deer may be a factor in the spread of infectious diseases. Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a prion disorder of deer and their cervid relatives, is presumed to be associated with direct contact between individuals and by exposure to shared food and water sources contaminated with prions shed by infected deer. Key aspects of disease ecology are yet unknown. DNA tools for pedigree reconstruction were developed to fill knowledge gaps in disease dynamics in prion-infected wild animals. Kinship indices using data from microsatellite loci and sequence haplotypes of mitochondrial DNA were employed to assemble genealogies. These molecular genealogy tools will be useful for landscape-level population genetic research and monitoring, in addition to epidemiologic studies examining transmission of CWD in captive and free ranging cervids.

Ernest HB, Hoar BR, Well, JA, O'Rourke K. In press 2010. Molecular genealogy tools for white-tailed deer with Chronic Wasting Disease. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research.

New deer mitochondrial DNA haplotype sequences on GENBANK: Accession numbers EF644627-EF644645

DNA for wildlife forensic case work - fighting poaching

Megan Cauder and the Forensic Unit of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory

Analysis of deer DNA poses a challenge to forensic casework since many species are closely-related.  Because of this genetic similarity, Megan Caulder is researching a way that DNA analysts could easily distinguish two closely-related deer species from one another by means of a micro satellite/Short Tandem Repeat (STR) panel.  She is focusing her research on discriminating white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) from mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), two species that are genetically similar and overlap in distribution in western North America.  One objective of forensic science involves the ability to link the suspect of a crime with the scene of a crime.  This research aims to aid the wildlife forensic community by providing a method of determining whether the species of deer remains at a scene is the same species as those remains associated with the suspect.