By analyzing DNA, a research team led by Seattle scientists has discovered a way to trace the origins of ivory and help stem the poaching that still threatens the giant beasts across much of their habitat.
The new technique allows researchers to extract from small samples of ivory, then compare it to a genetic map of Africa's elephant populations. Using a statistical model, they can match the ivory DNA to the most closely related elephant group, providing a good indication of where the ivory came from, said Samuel Wasser, of the University of Washington, lead author on a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That will help pinpoint places where poaching is concentrated and extra law enforcement is needed, said Wasser, who has spent more than two decades studying African mammals.
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