Ecological Transcriptomics for Endangered Species: Avoiding the “Successful Operation, but the Patient Died” Problem

Post provided by TILL CZYPIONKA, DANIEL GOEDBLOED, ARNE NOLTE and LEON BLAUSTEIN

Ecological Transcriptomics and Endangered Species

 The small size of the rockpool and the salamander population makes non-invasive sampling a necessity (from left: Tamar Krugman, Alan Templeton, Leon Blaustein). © Arne Nolte

The small size of the rockpool and the salamander population makes non-invasive sampling a necessity (from left: Tamar Krugman, Alan Templeton, Leon Blaustein). © Arne Nolte

Friday was Endangered Species Day – so this is a good time to reflect on what science and scientists can do to support conservation efforts and to reduce the rate of species extinctions. One obvious answer is that we need to study endangered species to understand their habitat requirements as well as their potential for acclimatization and adaptation to changing environmental conditions. This information is crucial to for the design of informed conservation planning. However, for most endangered species the relevant phenotypes are not known a priori, which leaves the well-intentioned scientist asking “which traits should I measure?”. Transcriptome analysis is often a good way to answer to this question.

Transcriptome analysis measures the expression levels of thousands of genes in parallel. This amount of data circumvents the need to decide on a reduced number of traits of unknown relevance and allows for a relatively unbiased phenotypic screen of many traits. In particular, physiological changes, which often influence a species’ distributional range, can be studied using transcriptome analysis. Also, transcriptomics provide a direct connection to the genetic level. This is essential for in-depth analyses of aspects of evolution and might even be helpful for a new kind of conservation planning, which aims to foster endangered species by promoting (supposedly) beneficial hybridization. The integration of transcriptomic analysis with ecological studies is known as ‘Ecological transcriptomics’. Continue reading