Analytical DNA fingerprinting in lions: Parentage, genetic diversity, and kinship

D. A. Gilbert, C. Packer, A. E. Pusey, J. C. Stephens, S. J. O'brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


The application of hypervariable minisatellite genomic families to the reconstruction of population genetic structure holds great promise in describing the demographic history and future prospects of free-ranging populations. This potential has not yet been realized due to unforeseen empirical constraints associated with the use of heterologous species probes, to theoretical limitations on the power of the procedure to track genic heterozygosity and kinship, and to the absence of extensive field studies to test genetic predictions. We combine here the technical development of feline-specific VNTR (variable number tandem repeat) families of genetic loci with the long-term demographic and behavioral observations of lion populations of the Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa. Minisatellite variation was used to quantify the extent of genetic variation in several populations that differed in their natural history and levels of inbreeding. Definitive parentage, both maternal and paternal, was assessed for 78 cubs born in 11 lion prides, permitting the assessment of precise genealogical relationships among some 200 lions. The extent of DNA restriction fragment sharing between lions was empirically calibrated with the coefficient of relatedness, r, in two different populations that had distinct demographic histories. The results suggest that reliable estimates of relative genetic diversity, of parentage, and of individual relatedness can be achieved in free-ranging populations, provided the minisatellite family is calibrated in established pedigrees for the species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)378-386
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1991

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
From the Biological Carcinogenesis and Development Program, Program Resources, Inc./DynCorp, NCI-Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center, Frederick, Maryland (Gilbert), the Department of Ecology & Behavior Biology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (Packer and Pusey), and the Laboratory of Viral Carcinogenesis, National Cancer Institute, Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center, Frederick, MD 21702-1201 (Stephens and O'Brien). D. A. Gilbert is now at the BioMoIecular Research Department, Washington Research Center, W. R. Grace and Company, Columbia, Maryland. We are grateful to Drs. M. Bush, D. Wildt, D. Janssen, S. Monfort, C. Molima, L. Herbst, and K. Hirji for invaluable assistance in obtaining lion samples, and to J. S. Martenson, K. Richards, and M. Eichelberger for excellent technical assistance. We also thank Drs. J. Avise, M. Lynch, R. Maclntyre, M. Raymond, M. Dean, and W. Modi for critical comments on early versions of the manuscript Samples were collected in full compliance with specific Federal Fish and Wildlife permits (CITES; Endangered and Threatened Species; Captive Bred) issued to the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, principal officer S. J. O'Brien, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services of the Department of the Interior. This project has been funded at least in part with the federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services under contract number NO1-CO-74102 with Program Resources, Inc. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. government The research was also supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation (BSR 8507087 and 8807702 to C.P. and A.E.P.), the National Geographic Society, and the NOAHS Center-National Zoological Park-Smithsonian Institution. We are grateful to the National Science Foundation, NOAHS Center of the National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, and the National Geographic Society for support of portions of this project Part of this work has been submitted to Johns Hopkins University in fulfillment of requirement for a PhD degree for Dennis A. Gilbert Address reprint requests and correspondence to Dr. O'Brien at the address above.


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