Genetic Management of a Tissue Regeneration Model Organism

Grants and Contracts Details


PROJECT DESCRIPTION 1. Research & Related Other Project Information Approximately 150 years ago, Mexican axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) were collected from aquatic habitats near present day Mexico City and laboratory populations were established first in Europe and then later in laboratories around the world. The largest captive bred population of axolotls is currently housed in the Ambystoma Genetic Stock Center (AGSC) at the University of Kentucky. In this proposal we request funding to develop and implement a genetic management plan to ensure long-term sustainability of axolotls for tissue regeneration research supported by ARO and other federal granting agencies. We propose to use pedigree information and multi-locus genotypes from all breeding adults to guide the selection of axolotls that are brought into the AGSC collection, to study phenotype-genotype associations, and to maintain genetic diversity within the AGSC breeding program. The genotyping tools developed under this project will be generally useful for non-AGSC axolotls. Thus, we view this project as a golden opportunity to partner with conservation biologists in Mexico that are working to protect axolotls in their native habitat. Today, because of habitat destruction, pollution, and introduction of exotic species, the Xochimilco population of axolotls has declined precipitously and is on the verge of extinction. Efforts are underway to conserve populations in protected habitats, however the situation is dire with only a few axolotls remaining. Moreover, conservation biologists have relatively few genetic resources from which to wage this battle. There is need to rapidly initiate genetically informed conservation strategies that will ensure long-term sustainability of axolotls in natural habitats. Research Objectives A. Develop a database that organizes axolotl pedigree information for data analysis and genetic management. The complete history of the AGSC collection, dating back to 1938, is recorded on note cards that include data concerning births, mating, health, and mortality. Some of these data have been entered into a Microsoft Access computer database that serves the function of data archival, however the database is antiquated and impenetrable for extracting information that could be used to analyze demographic trends and genotype-phenotype associations, and manage the AGSC axolotl-breeding program. We propose to enter archival text and computer AGSC records into a new database format that is designed for captive population management. Accomplishment of this objective will yield a functional pedigree database for managing and analyzing genetic and phenotypic information within the AGSC. B. Determine multi-locus genotypes for AGSC and Xochimilco axolotls. It is possible to manage genetic diversity within a captive population using information provided by a pedigree, however to sustain captive populations over the long term requires outcrossing to introduce new genetic variation. To effectively guide the selection of axolotls for breeding, we will identify informative single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) for protein-coding loci and obtain genotypes for all AGSC adults. With this genetic information in hand, we will be able to more efficiently design crosses to meet AGSC user needs, while sustaining genetic variation. Moreover, we will be able to assess axolotls from outside sources for the same genetic markers, including axolotls collected from Xochimilco. To assist in the management and conservation of Xochimilco axolotls, we will characterize existing genetic variation by collecting and genotyping axolotls across three years. Accomplishment of this objective will yield a genetic database for managing captive and wild axolotl populations. C. Partner with conservation biologists in reciprocal common garden experiments to assess performance of wild and domestic axolotls in laboratory and natural Mexican habitats. Methods used to produce, maintain, and conserve species can profoundly change the genetic properties of wild and captive bred populations. Accordingly, it is important to develop strategies that ensure sustainability while conserving natural phenotypic variation. While the optimal conservation strategy for Xochimilco axolotls is habitat restoration and population expansion in protected natural habitats, the stakes are high for critically endangered species. It is important to simultaneously pursue alternative strategies, including re-introduction of domestic and wild axolotls created from genetically informed crosses. We will provide genotyped, laboratory AGSC axolotls to collaborators in Mexico, for experiments that will be performed in a native habitat. We will simultaneously evaluate the performance of Xochimilco axolotls in the AGSC. Accomplishment of this objective will provide scientific data that are needed to guide policy decisions concerning axolotl conservation and management.
Effective start/end date4/1/148/31/17


  • Army Research Office: $416,891.00


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