* Experts collect snowy footprints prints for traces of DNA
* "Footprint DNA" could help monitoring of rare animals
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, Sept 2 Polar bear DNA has been isolated
for the first time from footprints left in the snow on an Arctic
island, a breakthrough that could help scientists better protect
rare and endangered wild animals, experts said on Tuesday.
Scientists often spend days tracking rare animals such as
snow leopards or orangutans for samples of DNA, for instance
from hair or faeces, to understand their movements, monitor
their populations and propose ways to protect them.
Using "footprint DNA" from snow or mud could let them study
animal numbers and movements more cheaply and without disturbing
habitats. It could also free up cash for other measures, such as
creating protected areas for vulnerable creatures.
"Animal tracks are what we find most often in the wild,"
said Arnaud Lyet of the WWF conservation group. Polar bears are
a good species to study because DNA breaks down far more slowly
in the cold than in the tropics.
Scientists collected snow around pawprints on the Norwegian
archipelago of Svalbard, melted it and used filters to identify
DNA genetic material from animal cells in the water, said Eva
Bellemain, of French DNA specialist firm SPYGEN.
"This is the first time we have got polar bear DNA from a
track sample in the snow," she told Reuters of the prints
collected this year by an expedition by the Norwegian Polar
Institute, WWF and Canon Inc.
Analysis of the samples turned up DNA genetic material of a
polar bear, a seal it had killed and a seagull that had been
So far, the experts could only say that the DNA was from a
polar bear. They were refining the technique as part of a next,
vital step to be able to identify individual bears from the DNA
An international "Red List" of threatened species says that
the polar bear is vulnerable to extinction because of a
projected decline in its habitat linked to climate change that
is melting sea ice in the Arctic.
(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Tom Heneghan)