Tears of the Cheetah: The Genetic Secrets of Our Animal Ancestors

Tears of the Cheetah: The Genetic Secrets of Our Animal Ancestors

Stephen J. O'Brien

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0312339003

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The history of life on Earth is dominated by extinction events so numerous that over 99.9% of the species ever to have existed are gone forever. If animals could talk, we would ask them to recall their own ancestries, in particular the secrets as to how they avoided almost inevitable annihilation in the face of daily assaults by predators, climactic cataclysms, deadly infections and innate diseases.

In Tears of the Cheetah, medical geneticist and conservationist Stephen J. O'Brien narrates fast-moving science adventure stories that explore the mysteries of survival among the earth's most endangered and beloved wildlife. Here we uncover the secret histories of exotic species such as Indonesian orangutans, humpback whales, and the imperiled cheetah-the world's fastest animal which nonetheless cannot escape its own genetic weaknesses.

Among these genetic detective stories we also discover how the Serengeti lions have lived with FIV (the feline version of HIV), where giant pandas really come from, how bold genetic action pulled the Florida panther from the edge of extinction, how the survivors of the medieval Black Death passed on a genetic gift to their descendents, and how mapping the genome of the domestic cat solved a murder case in Canada.

With each riveting account of animal resilience and adaptation, a remarkable parallel in human medicine is drawn, adding yet another rationale for species conservation-mining their genomes for cures to our own fatal diseases. Tears of the Cheetah offers a fascinating glimpse of the insight gained when geneticists venutre into the wild.

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Toma, were brought to the wildlife park from the Sacramento Zoo. Within weeks of their arrival both animals developed fevers, jaundice, severe tremors, and diarrhea. In spite of heroic efforts by Dr. Melody Roelke, the park’s veterinarian, both cheetahs perished. Sabu and Toma were infected with a nasty virus called “feline infectious peritonitis virus” (FIPV), which had been identified in domestic cats a decade earlier. In house cats FIPV stimulates a strong immune response that results in a

to have coexisted with and likely been extinguished by our direct ancestors. Until recently, we could only imagine the historic contact between human progenitors millennia ago. Now we have encrypted records, not only in the artifacts of archeological sites, but also passed down in our genes. Together the evidence is revealing some details of the trials and errors in the ancient human family tree. An important social outcome of the human studies has been the ticklish genetic assessment of modern

the brawl, zoo managers decided to try artificial insemination, a procedure by means of which Chinese zoos had achieved success for pandas. So when Ling Ling came into heat in 1983, London Zoo veterinarian Dr. John Knight was poised to collect semen from Chia Chia by electroejaculation. Knight carried the fresh semen in his breast pocket aboard a British Air flight to Washington the next day. Before Chia Chia’s sperm arrived at Dulles Airport, National Zoo’s reproductive expert Devra Kleiman

questioned Beamish at his parent’s home, Savoie noticed a rather large fat white tomcat, introduced to him as Snowball by Beamish’s parents. Beamish had been living at his parents’ since his recent release from prison. “Dr. O’Brien,” he continued, “I have been searching for weeks for a forensic laboratory that can tell if, or better prove, that the hairs from the leather jacket came from Snowball.” Human forensic labs had repeatedly declined. Some even thought his request was laughable, a joke.

well in their chemokine receptor function for assuaging bruises, but as a bonus they slow the CCR5 molecules’ journey to cell surfaces. The CCR2-64I-mediated reduction of CCR5 doorways for HIV retards virus spread in CCR2-64I carriers, delaying AIDS progression. Almost as rapidly as we could identify them, new genes that slowed or sped up AIDS began to appear in our cohort gene screens. At this writing, we have confirmed no fewer than twelve different AIDS restriction genes, all common variants

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