Date of Award
Molecular genetic techniques have become popular methods in ecology and wildlife conservation research. Advances in molecular genetic methods, particularly PCR (polymerase chain reaction), make it possible to amplify the numbers of specific DNA sequences from a sample with only a few original copies. Theoretically, the specificity of this approach should make it possible for wildlife biologists to identify and quantify the parasite and disease burden of endangered animals without being limited by the rarity of collaborators with expertise in the taxonomy of obscure parasite taxa. Because PCR requires just a small amount of DNA, the added benefit of a molecular genetic approach is that non-invasive sampling methods can be used that do not harm the endangered animals. My research involved two related projects. First I attempted to separate, morphologically identify, sequence, and isolate DNA from nematodes present in fecal samples collected non-invasively from the Baird’s tapir in Belize. This attempt was not successful but I did discover several practical obstacles to this type of work that made me wonder about the success rate of molecular parasitology in other studies of wildlife species. The second project was a systematic review of the literature of the practical challenges associated with using molecular genetic methods to identify parasitic nematodes in fecal samples of domestic and wild animals, and humans. This literature review led me to the conclusion that non-invasive sampling methods are only beneficial when the sequence of the studied nematode has already been named through prior research.
Cox, Keely Ann, "An Investigation of the Practical Challenges to Using Molecular Genetic Techniques to Identify the Parasite Burdens of Vertebrate Animals from Non-Invasive Sampling" (2020). Honors Theses. 1396.