Huge evolutionary divide between African and Asian cheetah, says CCMB study

The divide between North-east African cheetah with both the South-east African and Asiatic cheetah is 100-200,000 years ago. Also, the South-east African and Asiatic cheetah have diverged from each other 50-100,000 years ago, according to DNA analyses to understand evolutionary history of Asiatic and African cheetahs by scientists of the CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB).

The study of the sub-species of ‘Acinonyx jubatus’ was taken up in collaboration with Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, Lucknow, University of Cambridge, UK, Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Kolkata, University of Johannesburg, South Africa and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

“This is contrary to an existing belief that the evolutionary divide between Asiatic and African cheetahs is only of 5,000 years,” said Guy Jacobs of the University of Cambridge. The study results comes in the wake of the Supreme Court allowing the Central government to introduce Southern African cheetah in India.

Vast difference

A major parameter that decides the choice between Asiatic and African cheetah reintroduction in the country would be to see how different the two populations are. The farther back they diverged along evolution, the more different these two populations would be from each other, CCMB’s chief scientist and senior author K Thangaraj said.

“We have analysed three distinct cheetah samples — skin of a cheetah believed to be shot in Madhya Pradesh in 19th century from mammal gallery of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Kolkata, second was a bone obtained from Mysore’s Natural History Museum, dates to 1850 – 1900, and the third was a blood sample of a modern cheetah from Nehru Zoological Park (NZP), Hyderabad,” he explained.

DNA from historical skin and bone samples was separated in the ancient DNA facility of CCMB, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of these two samples and the modern cheetah sample were sequenced and analysed along with mtDNA of 118 cheetah from different parts of Africa and southwest Asia, another author Niraj Rai said.

Genetic uniqueness

Mr. Thangaraj said that the museum specimen from ZSI and modern sample from NZP are of Northeast African maternal descent while the museum specimen from Mysore showed close affinity with Southeast African cheetahs. The results have been published in ‘Scientific Reports’.

CCMB Director Rakesh K Mishra said the the study provides evidence towards establishing the genetic uniqueness of Asiatic cheetah, and hence, merits their targeted conservation efforts. Cheetah vanished from the country just after independence and Africa today harbours the highest number of these cats, called the African cheetah. Asiatic cheetahs found in numbers as small as 50 in Iran.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 4:07:28 PM |

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