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DNA test to tackle wildlife crimes

The DNA test will help in preserving fingerprints of endangered species and to crackdown on poaching.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2005 22:51 IST

In a high-tech initiative to tackle wildlife crimes, a premier research institution is evolving a method to apply DNA analysis to preserve fingerprints of endangered species and to crackdown on poaching.

The Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) would soon have a laboratory testing facility that would enable DNA fingerprinting of threatened wildlife species, bringing in the process hi-tech techniques in handling wildlife crimes.

"A team of scientists are working on the design of DNA finger-printing of tiger at present and the technology will be ready within 10 to 12 months", RGBC Director M Radhakrishna Pillai said. The RGCB would start with DNA analysis of tigers and later would extend it to other protected wild animals, he said.

The project was initiated as per the guidance of Union Ministry of Science and Technology in view of increased number of poaching of tigers at Sariska wildlife sanctuary.

In wildlife crimes, DNA analysis allows forensic experts to answer a wider range of questions than before, Pillai said.

Citing an example, Pillai said it could help determine not only whether samples collected during an investigation were of the same species but also whether they originated from the same animal.

"We will make ready the technology tool and it is for law-enforcing agencies to use the same in investigation", he said.

If a person was arrested with tiger skin, with DNA technology it would be possible to identify the particular tiger from which the skin was taken, he said.

"If the authorities have the fingerprints of the person taken into custody, we can establish whether the person himself was involved in poaching", he said.

DNA analysis can be used for species identification, gender determination, establishing parent-offspring relations and population identification of wildlife animals, he said.

Pillai said RGCB has been providing DNA finger printing facilities in court cases related to human beings including determining of parentage, identification of mutilated corpse, establishment of biological relationship in disputed cases of immigration, organ transplantation and inheritance disputes.

Most types of DNA analysis currently in use involve a process called PCR (polykmerase chain reaction). PCR 'amplifies' or copies specific short regions of DNA, he said.

So, with this, smaller samples and even partially degraded ones, can be analysed using PCR, he said. Proper investigation in wildlife crimes is difficult as the carcass might be many days old and the sample quality was not always optimal, he said.

In such cases, the PCR analysis would come in handy in investigation, he said.

DNA typing systems are available for most of the species that wildlife officers commonly come in contact with including birds, fish and mammals, Pillai said.

Systems for other species are constantly being developed in many universities for research purposes, he said adding this could be adapted for forensic applications, if necessary.

Pillai said evidence from DNA testing has been used successfully in court for human criminal cases and so, DNA analysis could play an increasing role in the investigation and into prosecution of wildlife crimes.

First Published: Oct 18, 2005 22:51 IST