Monday, December 20, 2010

RZSS’s zoological genetics unit wins scientific prize for Scottish wildcat research concept

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An ingenious research idea conceived by Wildgenes, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Zoological genetics unit, has received second prize in a national scientific competition.

The Scottish Illumina Sequencing Competition was organised by the world’s leading genomics research company, Illumina Inc. It was open to all scientists based in Scotland, and challenged participants to design a study using breakthrough genetic analysis technology that would lead to major discoveries in any area of medical and biological science.

Wildgenes based their winning concept on conservation genetics studies of the Scottish wildcat. Dr Rob Ogden, Senior Scientist in the Wildgenes lab explains:

‘The main problem we face in the conservation of Scottish wildcats is their hybridization with domestic cats. Hybridization makes it very difficult to identify a true Scottish wildcat, so we focussed on designing genetic methods that would enable us to distinguish between the two.’

As a result of their win, Wildgenes received £5000 worth of free genetic sequencing from Illumina Inc., which will enable them to take their concept forward and maintain their larger research efforts to support the conservation and management of the Scottish wildcat species.

Dr Ogden continues: ‘Receiving this award from Illumina Inc. is fantastic, as it will enable us, and our collaborators at the National Museum of Scotland and the University of Chester, to pursue an exciting idea that we otherwise would have struggled to find funds for.

The award will jump start a new research programme in our lab that focuses on the use of DNA analysis to support conservation management of endangered species, within Scotland and internationally.

Iain MacLaren-Lee, Regional Account Manager for Illumina Inc. said:

‘Several things stood out about the Wildgenes entry, but the study of such an interesting wild species was immediately intriguing as most genetic studies focus on humans or model organisms such as fruit flies.

‘Dr Rob Ogden’s description of the importance and end value of this conservation project was clearly elucidated and extremely compelling. The study itself was also excellent in its design, applying a cutting edge molecular technique to the area of conservation whilst simultaneously answering fundamental questions about the genetics of these fascinating and nationally important creatures.’

In total nine winners were awarded prizes, with eight runners up from around the country winning smaller second place prizes. In all cases the work will be conducted in one of the three Illumina centres around Scotland. The Wildgenes work is scheduled to take place early next year.

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