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...And gophers offer valuable clues.

The idea that cheetah populations are dangerously inbred comes in part from experiments showing that unrelated cheetahs can accept skin grafts from each other. Their immune systems don't reject the grafts, because the animals are so genetically similar. Critics, however, have argued that these grafting experiments suffered from many methodological shortcomings, casting doubt on the genetic similarity of cheetahs.

A new report confirms that in some natural populations, individuals from different families can be sufficiently similar to accept skin grafts from each other. It also sheds light on the ability of genetically matched populations to survive in the wild, despite their uniform immune systems, assert M.A.

Sanjayan and his colleagues at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Their report has been accepted for publication in Conservation Biology.

The team tested how well 44 members of three genetically dissimilar, well-established pocket-gopher populations accepted skin grafts from animals in their own group.

Two of the groups were highly inbred, and their members were the only animals to accept grafts from each other, the team found. However, the inbred individuals readily rejected skin taken from gophers outside of their population, which demonstrated that their immune systems were functioning reasonably well.

Although the individual gophers' immune systems responded normally, the inbred animals had very similar genes that encode immune-system proteins. Inbred groups, whether gophers or cheetahs, therefore may risk losing many members to a single infectious agent, the team notes.
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Title Annotation:Biology; inbred gophers and cheetahs show higher risk than non-inbred animals of losing members to single infectious agents
Author:Adler, Tina
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Aug 24, 1996
Previous Article:Saving cheetahs: adults come first.
Next Article:Lose a gene, lose some weight - in mice.

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