Developing mobile element based genetic markers for individual identification, captive breeding, and conservation genetics of gibbons

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Genetics


Gibbons (Hylobatidae) are the smallest of the apes (Hominoidea), and comprise endangered species key to the ecology of Asian tropical forests. Gibbons are threatened by habitat loss, hunting, and trade, and are IUCN priority species. International conservation efforts have focused on habitat preservation, but degradation of tropical forests is inexorable. Thus, maintenance, genetic management, and expansion of zoo populations are essential to gibbon conservation.
Using bioinformatic analysis of the gibbon genome, a panel of informative microsatellites suitable for individual-level genetic identification will be developed. These markers will be used for pedigree analysis, filling gaps in zoo studbooks. Furthermore, microsatellite analysis will inform on levels of genetic diversity within European gibbon collections. Zoo studbooks are maintained on the assumption that founders were unrelated, but the provenance of wild caught animals is limited. We will test this assumption to reveal the true genetic diversity of the captive European population, with implications for breeding strategies.
Gibbons are also of intense interest to evolutionary biologists, due to their exceptionally fluid genomes. Gibbon genomes evolve rapidly, and this evolution is proposed to be driven by mobile genetic elements, or transposons. Thus, the application of molecular genomic analyses in gibbons presents an excellent opportunity for fundamental research into transposon dynamics and evolution. Also, some transposon insertions may be specific at the genus or species level, with applications in conservation. One issue is the existence of suspected interspecies hybrids, that threaten the integrity of managed populations. The unequivocal identification of these individuals is key for captive breeding programmes, and confirming the ancestry of viable individuals would illuminate gibbon speciation and evolution.


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Vrljicak P (2018) Analysis of chromatin accessibility in decidualizing human endometrial stromal cells. in FASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M01116X/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1791041 Studentship BB/M01116X/1 03/10/2016 31/03/2021 Lauren Lansdowne
Description I performed paternity testing on a group of captive gibbons, the results of which determined the management of the group.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Other
Impact Types Policy & public services