Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Faeces of wild and endangered species to tell if the animal is pregnant; CCMB develops technology on faecal steroid hormone assay

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 15: In a major effort to conserve wild and rare animals from extinction, scientists at the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology have perfected the art of finding whether or 
not an endangered animal is pregnant by measuring steroids present in the faeces.
Using the faecal matter to find out if a wild animal is carrying is a non-invasive process and thus the animal is not subjected to painful daily blood tests. Just collect the faeces in the morning, subject it to some chemical process and the result is out.
"To know whether an animal is pregnant through assisted reproductive technology, we need to analyse the blood samples on daily basis. For this we need to collect blood from the animal every day. Since the animal is wild, it should be put on sedation before collecting the sample. Sedating wild or endangered 
animals to sedation may reflect on its health. Our method of using faecal steroid hormones eliminates the need for blood analysis," observes CCMB senior scientist Dr S Shivaji.
Assisted reproductive technology is one of the methods adopted worldwide by scientists to keep the numbers of endangered species going up. In this technology, the female animal is brought to "heat" 
or ovulation through artificial methods like using hormones. Later, sperm harvested from a male animal is 
inseminated artificially. Once this process is over, it is difficult to monitor whether the task has resulted in 
pregnancy.
Even in cases of artificial implant of embryo developed in petridish, the animal has to be monitored for pregnancy. Analysis of faecal steroid hormones will do away with the hazardous process of sedating 
the animal on daily basis to collect blood samples. "There's the problem of pseudo pregnancy in cats, whether big cats or domestic cats. We can rule out pseudo pregnancy too through our tests," Dr Shivaji added.
The faecal steroid hormone study was first conducted by CCMB team on Asiatic lion, which is listed as a critically endangered species with a couple of dozen wild population left in the Gir forests. They 
successfully monitored the induction of oestrus and ovulation in the Asiatic lion using non-invasive faecal steroid assay.
"In addition to captive breeding, assisted reproduction using techniques such as semen collection, semen
cryopreservation, in vitro fertilisation, artificial insemination and embryo transfer could also facilitate propagation of the rare and endangered animals," he added.

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