Applying Genomics to Conservation

Dr. Aryn Wilder, Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo Global

Human activity has left species worldwide on the brink of extinction, where they are susceptible to the loss of genetic diversity and the accumulation of deleterious mutations that reduce adaptive potential and increase extinction risk. The application of modern genomic tools allows us to more accurately assess the conservation status of populations and examine the genetic factors that contribute to extinction. I will present case studies from animal populations where we are applying genomics as a conservation tool. First, we compared genomic characteristics of two closely related white rhino subspecies, the northern white rhino (NWR) which has been driven effectively to extinction, and the southern white rhino which has mounted a remarkable recovery, to provide insight into the potential for restoration of NWR. Second, we are currently generating low-coverage, whole genome sequence data from hundreds of wild and captive Pacific pocket mice. Combined with imputation, low coverage sequencing provides a cost-effective way to infer genotypes across the genome for a large number of individuals, providing statistical power needed to measure the genetic basis of fitness-related traits. The advancement and increasing cost-effectiveness of genomic technologies will continue to provide valuable insights applicable to conservation across taxa.