Anyway, this got me thinking. What good is a genome sequence? What is it going to tell us about our favourite organism that good old-fashioned biological enquiry and lab work hasn’t been able to tell us so far? Whenever the idea of sequencing the tuatara genome is discussed, one of the major questions that comes back (especially from non-geneticists) is “why? Even though genome sequencing is getting faster and cheaper by the day, it still requires huge resources of time and money and it’s not always obvious why its worth going to the effort. Read the rest of this entry »
The past few days, headlines like “Maori don’t have warrior gene” and “Maori warrior gene debunked” have been all over the media. This has left me with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and thinking that this sounds a lot like media hype/oversimplification of what is a very complex area of research. To recap…
Back in 2006, Rod Lea gave a presentation at the 11th International Congress of Human Genetics showing that Maori have a higher frequency of a particular variant of the Monoamine Oxidase-A (MAO-A) gene. In some studies, this particular variant has been linked with aggression and antisocial behaviour, and one study back in 2004 dubbed it “the warrior gene”. The media picked this story up, and bandied around headlines like “Warrior gene blamed for Maori violence”, making statements claiming that “New Zealand Maori carry a “warrior” gene which makes them more prone to violence, criminal acts and risky behaviour”. This is not what Lea and colleagues claim in their original study at all – I’ll talk more about that below.
Anyway, now according to media reports this claim has been “debunked by science”. When I read this my initial thought was that someone has done another study of Maori MAO-A allele frequencies, and found conflicting results. But actually this is not the case at all. The “scientific study” that debunks this claim is actually just a review by Maori academic Dr Gary Hook, published in Mai Review – a peer-reviewed journal of Maori and Indigenous development, but not a scientific journal. Hook makes some good points, which I’ll talk more about in a minute, but presents no new data and much of his review of the scientific controversy has already been covered in a previous article.
Japan kills over a hundred minke whales each year under the guise of “scientific whaling”, and much of the meat ends up in the commercial markets destined for Japanese dinner plates. Now a study just published in Animal Conservation indicates that a similar number of whales are killed as “bycatch” in Japanese coastal waters, and much of this catch is unregulated and goes unreported.
Conservation management in New Zealand often involves translocating endangered species to predator-free sanctuaries. These translocations are often not as successful as they should be, but it can be difficult to pinpoint the reason why. A major problem for newly established populations can be the loss of genetic diversity that comes with establishing new populations from only a few founders. Loss of genetic diversity can increase the risk of extinction by reducing a population’s ability to adapt to new threats or environmental changes. Generally, conservation management programs for threatened species should aim to retain 90-95% heterozygosity over 100-200 years, but in reality management practices are often dictated more by convenience or by what can be realistically achieved in the field at the time.
New research (to be published soon in Molecular Ecology) by Victoria University PhD student Kim Miller has the potential to improve translocation planning for our native reptiles by offering guidelines for maximising genetic diversity and managing populations over time. Read the rest of this entry »