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China records bred Siberian tigers' DNA to avoid inbreeding
( 2003-09-30 15:15) (Xinhua)

Chinese zoologists have launched a program to test and register the DNA of Siberian tigers at the country's largest breeding center to keep track of their bloodlines and avoid inbreeding.

Zoologists from the Chinese Academy of Forestry Sciences and northeast China's Heilongjiang Province are set to test more than 300 tigers at the Hengdaohezi tiger breeding center.

Zoologists hope the development of the tigers' "DNA pedigrees and genetic management system" will help prevent inbreeding and thus genetic degeneration among the tigers bred in captivity.

"We've discovered genetic degeneration among our bred Siberian tigers," said Liu Dan, the breeding center's general engineer.

The degeneration symptoms included slow body development, blurry stripes, deformity and organ underdevelopment, Liu said.

"The inbreeding coefficient is now at dangerous level inside the center," he said, adding that it would be more likely for mass degeneration to happen if the tracking of the species' genes was not done.

Founded in 1986, the center has developed into China's largest breeding center for Siberian tigers, with the number of the bred tigers increasing to 300 currently from the original eight.

However, it was difficult for zoologists in the center to find the biological father for those cubs when they came to register their pedigree since a female tiger usually mated with several other male tigers in the past, Liu said.

Zoologists said the program would first analyze the genes of those tigers and establish pedigree files according to their DNA.

"We would then choose the best candidate female tigers for a given male tiger, according to our analysis of their genetic data with software, to produce offspring with the lowest inbreeding coefficient," said Wang Ligang, an official working in the center.

"It is important to keep the species pure to guarantee a sound reproduction of the population," said Zhang Wei, deputy director of the wildlife testing center with the State Administration of Forestry.

"Otherwise, genetic degeneration would bring down the quality of the species and make it more difficult to survive," he said.

The Siberian tiger is among the world's 10 most endangered species, with only less than 300 living in the wild, mostly in Russia's far east. Fewer than 10 Siberian tigers are now believed to live in the wild in China's northeast.

Officials at the center estimate that the number of bred-in- captivity Siberian tigers there will rise to 500 by 2005 and on that basis that figure will double by 2010.

The center has already imported six purebred Siberian tigers to improve the genetic quality of the local group, they added.

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