March 16, 2022

Quantitative PCR Detection of Bear Bile Products to Enhance Wildlife Enforcement

Wednesday March 16th, 2022
7:30pm – 8pm
English presentation

Numerous species have been driven to the brink of extinction from overharvest, motivated by the highly lucrative illegal trade of species that are used as components of traditional medicines. Bear bile is a prized component of traditional Asian medicines where increasing demand for this ingredient has led to declines in Asiatic bear populations. While laws exist to prevent poaching and trafficking of bear products, illegal trade persists given a preference for wild Asian bear bile with spill-over demand to surrogate sources, including American black bears (Ursus americanus). Mitochondrial DNA sequencing can be used for products that putatively contain bear bile. While useful, sequencing reactions can be undermined by inhibitors in bile and a lack of sensitivity to identify bear DNA in highly diluted products. Quantitative PCR (qPCR) assays are extremely target specific in detecting trace levels of nucleic acids while concomitantly evaluating assay inhibition that can lead to false negative results and are thus increasingly applied to low quality/quantity DNA applications. The aim of this study is to develop a qPCR method to amplify and detect low levels of bear DNA from highly diluted bile samples, including bile within liquors and liqueurs. Samples of unmixed bear bile, bile diluted with 5% and 50% ethanol, and bile diluted with whiskey and merlot were examined and quantified. Overall, this study provides a rapid, sensitive, and specific test to identify bear DNA from bile to assist wildlife enforcement.

Ashley is a 4th year undergraduate student at Trent University working towards a BSc Honours in Forensic Biology, with a specialization in law and policing. She is doing an undergraduate thesis with Dr. Christopher Kyle and Dr. Colleen Doyle to develop a qPCR assay that will detect low levels of bear DNA when mixed with liquors, such as whiskey. Ashley has applied to the Environmental and Life Science graduate program at Trent, hoping to continue studying applications in wildlife forensics in the fall of 2022. Ashley’s other interests, which are heavily influenced from growing up in the West Kootenay region of BC, consist of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, and skiing.


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