By using molecular paternity tests, you can determine the parents of a given offspring. They allow you to take the necessary measures to avoid mating close relatives.
Zoos and aquariums play a key role in species conservation through their breeding programmes of threatened species. For these programmes to be useful, care must be taken to avoid possible inbreeding. Inbreeding is a serious issue when working with a small number of individuals. These programmes must ensure appropriate levels of genetic variation through a managed breeding plan.
Molecular paternity tests use microsatellite markers that are found all across the genome. Microsatellites are repetitive DNA elements which have high mutation rates, and are therefore highly polymorphic. These regions are inherited by the offspring so that one allele comes from the dam, and the other one from the sire. Adults can be confirmed or excluded as parents by comparing their microsatellite genetic profiles with those of the offspring.
The steps for parental testing of animals involved in captive breeding projects are:
Deliverables include your results, the raw data generated (which will be delivered through our server), and a summary of the methods followed.
We were asked to assign the offspring of a population of harbour seals to their actual sires. These seals were to be used for captive breeding programmes. Therefore, crossing non-related individuals was essential. Individuals were genotyped at 16 microsatellite loci and the resulting genotypes were analysed using specific software. The results clearly confirmed which seal had sired each pup. As a result, the aquarium staff was able to determine which individuals should be crossed.