CSIR Takes Steps for Nurturing Nature
The most unique feature of the Earth is the existence of life, and the most extraordinary feature of life is its diversity’ (Cardinale et al., 2012)
Biodiversity is inextricably linked to human wellbeing due to its influence on ecosystem services, functions and climate regulation, thereby necessitating conservation of biodiversity. India has some of the world’s most diverse bio-regions which host numerous endemic faunal species like Asiatic lion, Nilgiri tahr, lion-tailed macaque, gharial etc. In addition, it has animals which exist at multiple sites but in a very low numbers like tigers or vultures or gharials, that have precipitously declined over the years. A few others like the Indian cheetah, pink-headed duck and more recently Jerdon’s coursor have probably become extinct. Habitat loss and other anthropogenic factors such as urbanization, expansion of agriculture, construction of roads, dams, industrialization, pollution and poaching are the main causes for the decline of wild animals. These factors could fragment habitats and wild populations thus resulting in inbreeding depression which could evolutionary make a species biologically unfit for survival. The need for conservation is therefore immense.
Effective conservation measures should include both in situ habitat preservation, species protection and ex situ conservation (captive breeding in controlled environment to restock original wild populations ). In addition, simultaneous attempts have to be made to establish the genetic health of wild populations by DNA fingerprinting and to increase population numbers. Towards these goals CSIR–CCMB took the lead for establishing laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCones) with the help of Dept. of Biotechnology (DBT), Govt. of India, New Delhi and Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA), New Delhi in 1998.
The objectives of CSIR–CCMB were to promote excellence in conservation biology and the use of technology in conservation of endangered fauna of India. Furthermore, CSIR–CCMB sought to ascertain the genetic status of endangered animals to avoid inbreeding depression and maintain viable and vibrant populations in the wild. It aimed at developing assisted reproductive technologies including fertility analysis based on semen and hormonal profiles to facilitate conservation breeding in Indian zoos as also to create a cryo-repository of embryos, tissues, cells, gonads, gametes and DNA for future genetic studies including resurrection species. CSIR–CCMB also envisaged developing DNA based methods for rapid diagnosis of wildlife disease.
CSIR–CCMB has significant achievements to its credit aiding societal transformation and development. It developed d species-specific microsatellite markers for lion, tiger and leopard and established that these animals are genetically polymorphic and not inbred. CSIR-CCMB further added to its arsenal by developing a universal primer for wildlife forensic use to identify animal species. A non-invasive technique for estimation of lion and tiger populations based in DNA analysis of scat samples was developed by CSIR-CCMB. The data also provided crucial information on sex, population structure and movement of tigers. The smuggled star tortoise was successfully rehabilitated based on molecular marker studies undertaken by CSIR-CCMB.
Other notable CSIR–CCMB achievements include; (a) A DNA-based method for sexing of birds, (b) DNA –based methods for rapid detection of certain parasitic, bacterial fungal and viral diseases in endangered animals from different zoological parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India, (c) A non-invasive single sample pregnancy detection method for big cats and ungulates, (d) Establishment of a bank containing DNA of more than 250 Indian species of mammals, birds, reptiles etc. among a host of others.
With these aims and achievements, LaCONES is indeed a classic example that can showcase application of science & technology in reversing extinction of species, and providing an enduring that contribute safeguarding our nature!