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Research samples could aid wildlife forensics

Wildlife crime investigations could benefit from access to biobanks focused on conservation and research.

Orange and white bird hiding head in feathers
Access to conservation biobanks and sharing of digital DNA data could help provide robust evidence to courts and tackle wildlife crime.

Sharing of samples through wildlife conservation-focused biobanks could accelerate the fight against wildlife crime, which threatens animals, plants and their environments, a review study has concluded.

Access to biobanks which store biological samples provided by conservation and research sources, could support wildlife DNA forensics investigations, the research found.

Conservation-focused biobanks could help to improve access to research samples that would be difficult to obtain otherwise, such as for rare, endangered species, or those inhabiting remote areas.

Samples from these biobanks can be used to develop genetic tools to help identify the species and geographical location of samples collected during a wildlife forensics crime scene investigation.

Using samples from conservation-focused biobanks, coupled with increased sharing of digital DNA data, could facilitate efforts by wildlife forensic geneticists to provide robust evidence to courts and accelerate law enforcement for combating wildlife crime, which is one of the main drivers for disease spread from animals to humans through illegal wildlife trade, researchers say.

CryoArks is a conservation-focused biobank initiative in the UK, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and involving scientists from the Roslin Institute,   which aims to increase the visibility and availability of cryopreserved animal samples held in museums, zoos, research institutes and universities across the UK to facilitate research and conservation projects.

The commentary paper is published in the journal Forensic Science International: Animals and Environments.

Collaboration between wildlife forensic geneticists and conservation and research-focused biobanks to secure adequate reference samples for wildlife DNA forensics analyses, as well as a more widespread sharing of digital DNA data among the wildlife forensics community, are important strategies to accelerate the implementation of law enforcement against wildlife crime.

Dr Sílvia Pérez-EsponaLecturer and Conservation Science Programme Coordinator, Roslin Institute, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, CryoArks

** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from BBSRC and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. **

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