Cracking down on wildlife trafficking
Wildlife trafficking is a threat to nature, security, and development
Dr Wetton was among the first to use DNA fingerprinting on wild animals (Wetton et al., Nature 1987), with years of experience in forensics, he should be the right man for this project. In DNA fingerprinting hyper-variable regions of the genome are amplified, their sizes visualized on a gel and the pattern compared between samples. The technique produces a data profile that is unique for most individuals and can therefore be used to match a suspect to material found at a crime scene. DNA barcoding is using the same idea, but focuses the comparison on one specific region of the genome (usually on the mitochondrial chromosomes of animals) against a set of sequence profiles stored in a database. Various barcoding projects are under way to build up this comparison dataset.
Dr Wetton's team is planning to use Nanopore's handheld MinION sequencing machine and sample prep solution to put together a solution that could be used to combat wildlife trafficking in the field. The black market for animals and animal parts is estimated to be worth about 19 billion USD per year. It is threatening the survival of species, harming animals and putting people in danger working in conservation, law enforcement and tourism.
Being able to rapidly identify the species at hand would bring benefits like the following:
- Test species directly at border controls in order to identify protected species and to enforce correct punishment
- Re-locate confiscated animals back to the correct habitat where possible
- Identify bushmeat offered at markets or checked by rangers