TEARS OF THE CHEETAH
- a story of genetic diversity
Dr Karobi Moitra , NCI Frederick
Where do cheetahs stand on the tree of life?
Phylum : Chordata
Class : Mammalia
Order : Primates Order : Carnivora
Family : Hominidae Family : Felidae
Genus : Homo Genus: Acinonyx
Species: H. sapiens Species: A. jubatus
Where did the name ‘cheetah’ come from ?
Sanskrit word : Chitakayah
- which means ‘variegated’ body - ‘marks or patches’’
Hindi - ‘Chitah’ English : Cheetah
Cheetah range :
SE Asia: India?
Some cool cheetah facts :
• Cheetah eat gazelles, impala, zebra, hare etc.
• They hunt in early morning or late in the afternoon
• They hunt in groups
• Rely on vision not scent to hunt
• Adult cheetahs weigh ~ 140lb
• Total body length over 6ft
• Have a distinct ‘tear’ streak
How fast can cheetah’s run ?
Cheetah’s can run upto 75 mph (120km/h)
for 1,500ft or 1min 30 secs.
Acceleration: 1-64 mph in 3 secs
The African cheetah population was down to around 15,000
So conservationalists tried to breed them in captivity - this
was very hard to do
Also cheetah populations were very prone to disease, if a
few cheetah were infected with a disease such as FIPV-
feline infectious peritonitis virus, the rest become infected
Journey to Africa
Mitch Bush (National Zoo) & David Wildt (NCI)
boarded a plane to the DeWildt cheetah breeding
center in Pretoria (South Africa)
They collected blood samples from around 80 cheetahs
and brought them back to Stephen O’Briens lab at
NCI-Frederick for analysis.
Proteins in the cheetahs blood were
separated and analyzed using a technique
Protein Gel Electrophoresis
Mobility shifts (change in the position of a protein band)
can identify the different types of enzyme variants
in a cheetah blood sample
Most animals have a 20-50% difference in specific blood
proteins(enzymes) called allozymes because they are
different varieties of the same protein
However, when Janice Martenson looked at the allozymes
In the cheetah blood samples she found that cheetahs were
Identical for 52 allozymes across the board.
Back to Africa !
MHC genes are extremely variable
They are responsible for graft rejection
Skin grafts from 6 unrelated cheetahs were done
If these graft were accepted and grew it meant that
these cheetahs were nearly genetically identical to each
other = very little genetic diversity
The “Bottleneck Effect”
Tears of the cheetah - the legend
“A young female cheetah climbed into a warm cave
to slumber through a harsh winter in Europe. When
she and her cubs crept out in springtime, they met
a different world, one in which the cheetahs were (almost)
gone - victims of a global holocaust”
……and she cried for them
Save the cheetah !
References / Websites
Tears of the Cheetah by Stephen J . O’Brien