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Breathing Life into an Extinct Species: Ancient DNA Cracks the Case
The only North American frog species currently listed as extinct is not extinct.
“There are several species of leopard frogs in the southwest and, even though they are not the same species, they all look quite similar even to herpetologists—
“What we initially set out to do,” said Dr. Saumure “was to determine if the Vegas Valley Leopard Frog (Rana fisheri) was the same species as the imperiled Relict Leopard Frog (Rana onca) found along tributaries of the Colorado River, several miles to the east.”
To answer that question, Dr. Evon Hekkala, then a post-doc at Tulane University, was enlisted to conduct the genetic analyses. To make the study possible, useable DNA had to be extracted from Vegas Valley Leopard Frogs collected in Las Vegas in 1913 and housed at the California Academy of Sciences.
“Our first success was to extract useable strands of DNA from these frogs preserved almost 100 years ago” says Dr. Hekkala, now an Assistant Professor at Fordham University.
The initial results were discouraging, despite their physical similarities and geographic proximity, the frogs were not the same species. The question remained whether the Vegas Valley Leopard Frog was truly extinct.
With the DNA extracted, Dr. Hekkala was able to compare it to data in GenBank, a database that contains DNA sequence data for a myriad of organisms, including 62 other species of frogs from North America.
What the research team found, as published in the scientific journal “Conservation Genetics”, was that the Vegas Valley Leopard Frog was virtually identical, genetically speaking, to the Threatened Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chiricahuensis)
“It meant” says Dr. Hekkala “that the only North American frog species currently listed as extinct was not extinct!”
For a team of conservation-
Images are available upon request.
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