Probe into poaching

Published: Sunday 15 November 1998

On the horns of a dilemma (Credit: Anil Agarwal / CSE)SCIENTISTS in India have developed a genetic probe to prevent poaching of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros. The probe, developed by scientists at the New Delhi-based National Institute of Immunology (NII), can detect rhino horn even if it is crushed into powder or mixed with something else to deceive detection by the wildlife authorities. Scientists analysed the genetic material of the Indian one-horned rhino and found a repetitive DNA sequence - a On the horns of a genetic trait unique to the species which is not present in any other animal, not even in its African cousin, the double-horned black rhinoceros. "In other words, we can use the NII probe to find out if a particular horn came from India or Africa," said NII scientist Sher Ali, who headed the team which designed the probe.

Using the knowledge of the repetitive DNA sequence, they have developed a kit which would be a valuable weapon in the hands of conservationists seeking to track down the source of the rhino horn. "While the DNA fingerprint is unique to Indian species, the genetic test is sensitive enough to distinguish rhinos of West Bengal from those of Assam," Ali said. The great Indian one-horned rhinoceros is found only in a few scattered pockets in Assam. West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

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