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DNA Fingerprint From A Polar Bear Footprint

For the first time ever, polar bear DNA has been isolated from a footprint in the snow, a development that could help scientists monitor populations of polar bears and other animals in cheaper and less invasive ways, experts said Tuesday.

churchill polar bear2

According to NBC News:

Scientists collected snow around pawprints on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, melted it and used filters to identify DNA genetic material from animal cells in the water, said Eva Bellemain, of French DNA specialist firm SPYGEN. Analysis of the samples turned up DNA genetic material of a polar bear, a seal it had killed and a seagull that had been seen nearby.

The results weren’t much more detailed than that, but the hope is that the process will be refined quickly. “So far, the method can only confirm what species the DNA came from,” reports the Canadian Press. “However, Bellemain said that the ability to identify individual bears is near.” Perhaps as soon as the beginning of next year.

churchill polar bear

The Canadian Press goes on to say:

That would allow scientists to know the gender of an animal, analyze its parentage, get an idea of the structure of the population it came from and suggest the size of territory and resources it uses — all from a footprint.

“This would be a huge boon to the type of work that many of us do for population monitoring,” said Andrew Derocher, a polar bear biologist at the University of Alberta.

And it’s good news for scientists who study other species too. Though the cold arctic environment is particularly good for preserving samples.

–Vicki Croke

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