Use of cytochrome c oxidase 1 gene in identification of wildlife species: A molecular tool in forensics science
Conservation of wildlife is important for the sustainable utilization of wildlife resources in any country. Wildlife conservation entails among other measures, the prevention of illegal utilization of wildlife resources. However, rampant illegal poaching and the inability of morphological methods to identify processed bushmeat at species level poses a challenge to wildlife conservation. In this study, the DNA barcoding technique using Cytochrome C Oxidase 1 (CO1) gene region as a molecular marker was validated and applied for species identification as a potential tool to complement wildlife conservation efforts. Using samples from five known Kenyan wild animal species of Impala (Aepyceros melampus), waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Black rhino (Diceros bicornis) and African elephant (Loxodonta Africana cyclotis), this study investigated the use of CO1 marker for molecular species identification. The CO1 marker accurately identified the test wildlife species sampled in the field by use of their derived sequences, identified by species identification tools of BLAST for GenBank, Markov chain reaction technique in BOLD and Phylogenetic tree analysis. The sequences generated were deposited in GenBank database as Barcode of Life Database (BOLD) sequences for use as future reference samples. The CO1 gene marker was subsequently used to track bushmeat prevalence and meat product substitution in retail outlets in Nakuru County. 99 unknown meat samples were collected using stratified random sampling from meat traders in urban centers, formal and informal settlements. No bushmeat was detected in any of the samples from retail outlets in the County. However, substitution of meat from a putative domestic species (the alleged purchased species type) with closely related domestic species was evident, mainly substitution of chevon with mutton. This study supported the application of the CO1 mitochondrian gene marker for accurate species identification of vertebrate wildlife, both domestic and wildlife and recommend the use of the marker as a molecular species identification tool for use in Kenya‘s wildlife conservation efforts.