Wednesday, March 25, 2009

VIRGINIA NEWS: So Where Did All Of Those Deer Come From?

Virginia’s suburbanites and farmers often complain about the number of deer in the road and in the crops, but nobody knows where all those deer came from. Radford University biology professor Bob Sheehy aims to find out.

Naturally, he’s asking his students to help him with the task.

Sheehy is using his genetics class and the 35 students in it to examine the DNA of Virginia’s deer population in hopes of tracing its varied roots. He has also put hunters to work gathering slivers of deer DNA for the students to scrutinize.

What makes the result of the research likely to be intriguing is that much of Virginia’s deer population can be traced to other states: deer all but disappeared from western Virginia at the beginning of the 20th century, prompting the state to bring in deer from elsewhere.

Thirteen deer from West Virginia, for instance, were released in Rockingham County in 1926. Ten deer from North Carolina were let go in Washington County in 1930 and 1931. And, as the program expanded, hundreds more were released in counties west of the Blue Ridge from Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in the following decades.

Altogether, one academic count showed, nearly 2,800 deer were brought to Virginia from other states by 1970, successfully restoring deer to the state.

Now, Sheehy and his students hope to learn how the populations have mingled — if they have — and if they have migrated. Beyond the basic scientific understanding, Sheehy said, is the hands-on knowledge of DNA that students will get from analyzing fingernail-size pieces of deer.

“I’m always trying to find ways to introduce students to genetic variability at the molecular level,“ Sheehy said. “They often find it obtuse. I thought using deer would be great because there’s a ready supply of deer.“

One student who said he is getting a lot out of the project is Jon Hirst, a 22-year-old junior and a graduate of Thomas Dale High School in Chester. “I’ve actually learned a lot more in the lab than in the lectures. It’s showing you rather than telling you about it. And Professor Sheehy is very excited about genetics.“

Sheehy said he hopes to receive samples of DNA from the states that sent deer to Virginia so his students can determine the basic genetic markers — the stuff that makes them unique — of each population. Then, year after year, new classes of students will participate in the project, building a database of deer DNA from throughout Virginia.

“This is real research for the students,“ Sheehy said, “and somebody will use the data further down the line.“

Source: Lynchburg News Advance

No comments: