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Integrating gene transcription-based biomarkers to understand desert tortoise and ecosystem health

March 30, 2015

Tortoises are susceptible to a wide variety of environmental stressors, and the influence of human disturbances on health and survival of tortoises is difficult to detect. As an addition to current diagnostic methods for desert tortoises, we have developed the first leukocyte gene transcription biomarker panel for the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), enhancing the ability to identify specific environmental conditions potentially linked to declining animal health. Blood leukocyte transcript profiles have the potential to identify physiologically stressed animals in lieu of clinical signs. For desert tortoises, the gene transcript profile included a combination of immune or detoxification response genes with the potential to be modified by biological or physical injury and consequently provide information on the type and magnitude of stressors present in the animal’s habitat. Blood from 64 wild adult tortoises at three sites in Clark County, NV, and San Bernardino, CA, and from 19 captive tortoises in Clark County, NV, was collected and evaluated for genes indicative of physiological status. Statistical analysis using a priori groupings indicated significant differences among groups for several genes, while multidimensional scaling and cluster analyses of transcriptionC T values indicated strong differentiation of a large cluster and multiple outlying individual tortoises or small clusters in multidimensional space. These analyses highlight the effectiveness of the gene panel at detecting environmental perturbations as well as providing guidance in determining the health of the desert tortoise.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2015
Title Integrating gene transcription-based biomarkers to understand desert tortoise and ecosystem health
DOI 10.1007/s10393-014-0998-8
Authors Lizabeth Bowen, A. Keith Miles, K. Kristina Drake, Shannon C. Waters, Todd C. Esque, Kenneth E. Nussear
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title EcoHealth
Series Number
Index ID 70144376
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center