The genetic diversity within the immune system of giant panda is relatively high, according to an analysis in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology. The work suggests they may be better suited to adapt to the changing environment than was previously thought. Scientists categorise the remaining six populations of giant panda according to their genetic diversity and recommend specific populations that could be bred in captivity in order to keep the population healthy.
Researchers are concerned with how genetic variation can be maintained within populations of endangered species, especially within small isolated populations such as the giant panda in China. The giant panda is an endangered species and the current number of wild pandas is only about 1500. Analysing genes that evolve in response to environmental pressures can help researchers understand a species' ability to adapt, and how they might be conserved. In this new article researchers report on an analysis of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, those which are involved in the immune system, in the giant panda.
The assumption is that a decrease in genetic variation and a lack of exchange between isolated populations increase the likelihood of extinction by reducing the population's ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions. However, the results of this genetic analysis showed that the giant panda has relatively high levels of genetic diversity in the MHC genes in comparison to other endangered species, meaning they may be able to cope better with a changing environment.
The results also allowed the group to recommend giant panda populations that could be targeted for captive breeding programme based on their genetic diversity. This analysis could have strong implications for maintaining genetic diversity whilst conserving the giant panda both in the wild and in captivity.
- Ying Zhu, Qiu-Hong Wan, Bin Yu, Yun-Fa Ge and Sheng-Guo Fang. Patterns of genetic differentiation at MHC class I genes and microsatellites identify conservation units in the giant panda. BMC Evolutionary Biology, October 2013
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