State-of-the-art genetic lab to aid conservation of Asiatic lion
Indian Express By Vikram Rautela
According to the officials of the state Forest Department, this is being done as part of the Gujarat government's conservation plan for the endangered lions of Gir.
The proposed laboratory, Gujarat Institute of Wildlife Genomics (GIWG) or LEOGEN, will come up at Sakkar Baug Zoo in Junagadh.
A joint project of the state Forest Department and the Gujarat State Bio-technology Mission (GSBM), LEOGEN will be set up at an estimated cost of over Rs 10 crore.
"We have already received a couple of crores for LEOGEN and the details of the project are being considered by the state government. Work for LEOGEN will start in about a month's time. The entire project is expected to take about three years to complete," said Pradeep Khanna, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Gujarat.
With this, Gujarat will become the first state in the country to have a genetic laboratory for conservation of its wildlife assets. Sasan Gir in Gujarat is the last habitat of the Asiatic lion in the world. As per the last census, there are only 359 lions in the state.
LEOGEN is aimed at conserving the endangered Asiatic lion through biotechnological interventions. It will have facilities for DNA banking, cellular studies, proteomics, cryogenics and bio-informatics.
The project also includes two pilot studies on Asiatic lions — development of micro satellite markers (or specific sequence of DNA unique to the Asiatic lion) and preliminary DNA banking of the Asiatic lion.
GSBM and the Forest Department will joinlty conduct these studies.
Khanna said: "At present, our focus is mainly on the long term conservation of the Asiatic lion. LEOGEN will later work on similar conservation plans for other endangered species in the state."
According to GSBM officials, a detailed genetic profiling of the Asiatic lion will help scientists find out any genetic structure that links the animal to some known disease or disorder (disease susceptibility), help in their long term conservation, facilitate correct medical treatment in case of a disease and provide forensic help in case of poaching.