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Old Deer, New Tricks: Seabury Applies Next Generation Sequencing to the White-Tailed Deer

Posted March 22, 2011

Old Deer, New Tricks: Seabury Applies Next Generation Sequencing to the White-Tailed Deer

COLLEGE STATION, TX - Together with his team of scientists, Dr. Christopher M. Seabury, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), utilized next generation sequencing technologies to develop a working comparative knowledge of the white-tailed deer genome.  Their work entitled, "Genome-Wide Polymorphism and Comparative Analyses in the White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus): A Model for Conservation Genomics" was recently published in  PLoS ONE, and included a complete mitochondrial genome sequence assembly as well as a survey of nuclear genome sequences from both southern and northern white-tailed deer.

Prior to Seabury's publication, no large-scale genomics research had ever been established for this species, which in part was due to inadequate competitive research funding.  Seabury and his team strongly believe in the importance of developing species-specific genomic tools and resources for the white-tailed deer, such that studies may develop without having to rely upon technologies and resources borrowed from domestic cattle and sheep.  Notably, Seabury's vigor and interest is primarily driven by burgeoning wild and captive white-tailed deer populations at the state and national level, a strong economic impact surrounding white-tailed deer related to agribusiness, and a myriad of interesting biological characteristics such as adaptability, fecundity, and differential susceptibility to disease.

Relevant to Seabury's recent study, a 2007 study by agricultural economists from Texas A&M determined that farmed white-tailed deer ranked sixth in agricultural products, bringing in $652 million to the Texas economy, with a national economic impact in excess of $3 billion. White-tailed deer are truly a unique species because they occur as both free ranging wildlife species, and captively propagated agricultural species. Given the obvious economic impact of activities related to white-tailed deer, researchers determined that the species will be a major agricultural player in the years to come.

In addition to the obvious utility of Seabury's research where white-tailed deer are concerned, he also had this to say, "The research represented by this publication provides a cost-effective template for rapidly developing novel and sophisticated genomics research programs for species that don't receive a lot of funding……the so-called minor species," explains Seabury.

His research also demonstrates that one principal investigator and a small team of scientists can provoke significant progress in historically underfunded species by developing tools, resources, and methodologies that would enable such progress.  Moreover, it should be noted that the entire deer project was carried out by a single laboratory, with one computer in Seabury's office.

Seabury and his team hope that this research will be useful to the management of both free ranging and captive populations of white-tailed deer; which should positively impact both breeders and molecular ecologists. Importantly, his workflow can be applied to other species where funding is limited. As more information and tools become available for underfunded species, Seabury anticipates that his work will help to precipitate additional funding for the white-tailed deer as well as other important non-model species.

"It's not just the deer resources and analyses, but the method and workflow that can be utilized for any wildlife or minor species," states Seabury. "We literally took white-tailed deer genomics from a casual conversation with no tangible resources, to a sophisticated research program with thousands of deer-specific genetic markers and comparative genome annotation in a very swift fashion."

Seabury and his team enlisted help from Dr. Don Davis, the Texas Deer Association (TDA), and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department who provided access to DNA resources from both captive and free ranging deer.

Dr. Dick Cain, representative from the TDA, states that TDA's relationship with Texas A&M has been long standing, and he is especially excited about the recent publication produced by Seabury and his team.

"We at the TDA are excited about the potential Seabury's cutting-edge research has on our industry," says Cain. "His research will give a complete genetic map of white-tailed deer, will provide the opportunity to help with reproduction, will facilitate in eliminating transmissible diseases, and provide support in treatment of disease. It holds great promise, and as a tremendous contribution to our industry it will change the way we breed deer in the future."

"This paper, which utilizes cutting-edge biotechnology and computing, will forever change how we approach genomic research with respect to historically underfunded species, and make large-scale genomics possible for groups with very modest research budgets, including developing countries, thereby enabling sophisticated research in many new species," explains Seabury.

Contact Information:
Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc - (979) 862-2675
Cell - (979) 739-5718

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