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Elephant DNA

February 18, 2010

Researchers turn to genetics to help elephants survive.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Some really big genes…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

A set of genes called the major histocompatibility complex helps you fight off disease. Well, elephants have these genes too. Evolutionary biologist Beth Archie, now of Notre Dame, and her colleagues at the Smithsonian National Zoo collected DNA samples from elephants.

BETH ARCHIE (Notre Dame):
We found out that elephants have fairly diverse MHc genes.

HIRSHON:
She says that’s good news for the pachyderms.

ARCHIE:
Populations need to maintain genetic diversity so that they can face changing conditions in the future, like climate change or a new disease threat that might come in. Disease in itself is an important issue in zoo populations of elephants and also in the wild, actually, so having goof genetic diversity is important.

HIRSHON:
I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.