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Delving into DNA:
Colloquium highlights work of several researchers

On Friday, December 6, several Trent researchers and graduate students made presentations at a colloquium that explored the role of DNA profiling in natural resources conservation and management.

Many different research projects - ranging from aquatic management and the profiling of Ontario walleye stocks to the profiling of the endangered wood poppy - were discussed in detail. Representatives from McMaster University, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR), Sir Sandford Fleming College and the Royal Botanical Gardens, along with Trent University, delivered presentations at the OMNR’s Water Street building.

The Wildlife DNA Forensic Laboratory, located at Trent University, is involved in many of the projects that were highlighted in the colloquium. This is a cutting-edge facility that has become invaluable in solving wildlife infractions and managing wildlife populations in the province.

This particular lab is based on the collaborative efforts of researchers and scientists from Trent and the OMNR, and is guided by the vision of Trent’s Dr. Brad White.

Dr. White received his first wildlife DNA case in 1981 and the lab was founded in 1989. In 1991, DNA evidence from the lab was used in a North American court for the first time. Since then, Trent’s Dr. Paul Wilson estimates they have processed more than 1,000 cases. Evidence has been used in every province and territory in Canada, as well as many U.S. states.

The lab is used in these cases to identify individual animals that have been illegally killed, based on remains found by authorities. The DNA obtained from those samples can be matched with DNA obtained from suspects (such as blood on a truck or knife, or meat found in the suspect’s freezer) and, as a result, the perpetrators of poaching crimes can be ascertained.

As well, the lab can identify species information from samples associated with the illegal commercialization of game meat, or the trade of endangered species. For instance, if authorities discover a freezer full of unidentified meat, the lab at Trent can determine the type of animal involved, as well as how many.

Parentage identification is also used in court, to determine if wild animals have been introduced illegally into registered captive breeding programs. This is a serious offence and, based on DNA work produced at Trent, arrests have been made in this area.

"Dr. White and I have, between us, made over 100 court appearances," explained Dr. Wilson on December 6. "That number is similar to the number of cases that would involve a top human forensic scientist."

Dr. Wilson added that he hoped the work of the Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory has had some impact on poaching levels in Ontario.

Other Trent presenters on Dec. 6 included Dr. Brad White, Dr. Neil Emery, Cathy Cullingham, Kaela Beauclerc, Angela Coxon, Karen Mills, Ashleigh Crompton, Mike Butler, Scott Reid, and Chris May. President Bonnie Patterson made concluding comments to end the successful, and informative, day.

Posted December 9, 2002

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Last updated December 13, 2002