Advances in science and technology have improved the world in ways that once were not thought to be possible. One of the most dynamic of these advances is the study of DNA and how genetic material determines and identifies characteristics unique to each organism. DNA has become the undeniable evidence used to prove and disprove the actions and presence of humans and animals across time. It has become the final word when trying to determine maternity or paternity, the presence or absence of diseases, and even a person’s guilt or innocence.
DNA testing has also become an issue of concern for those interested in preserving white-tailed deer. In the effort to strengthen the health and population of their deer herds, deer farmers have begun to recognize the value of knowing the genetic profile of each animal. Obtaining the testing sample from the animal, however, has not been the easiest of processes.
Pneu-Dart, a remote injection equipment manufacturer based in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, has developed the first dart specifically designed to collect DNA samples without causing stress to the animal. Working closely for several months with Jim Raney, Founder and Executive Director of the North American Whitetail Registry, Inc., technicians at Pneu-Dart refined the design of the DNA Dart to ensure its effectiveness in obtaining tissue samples for DNA testing. “This new design makes the tissue sample collection from wild animals easier for everyone involved,” says Dr. Robert Gozales, Scientific Advisor for DNA Solutions, Inc., in Ardmore, Oklahoma. “A tissue sample is the best kind of sample, preferable to that of hair and blood.”
Why DNA testing for deer?
Testing is done to get a DNA fingerprint of an organism’s genetic material. “Your DNA identity is a 50/50 composite of your parents,” explains Dr. Gonzales. “[Knowing this individually unique DNA profile] helps registries confirm the genealogy or lineage of a given buck or doe.” It provides deer farmers with scientific proof that the deer they raise hold the pedigree the farmers believe they do. DNA testing eliminates any doubt, which is essential when people pay thousands of dollars for healthy specimens. Jim Raney, representative of the North American Whitetail Registry, Inc., agrees with Dr. Gonzales: “Deer farmers are starting to see the importance of documentation. Your documentation has to be verifiable. Many breeders have been reluctant to use genetic testing because of the stress imposed on the animal during the process of sample retrieval. They didn’t feel that the verification of parentage was worth the risk of damaging or losing an otherwise strong, healthy animal. [Pneu-Dart’s DNA Dart] should allow breeders to concentrate on their bloodlines without the fear of causing stress to their stock.”
How does the DNA Dart make obtaining samples easier?
The DNA Dart is built on a one cc plastic dart body. The purpose of the design is to remove a small tissue sample containing both the dermis and the hypodermis. A single tissue sample captured by the dart during field trials can provide enough tissue, conceivably, for dozens of DNA tests once the DNA has been properly isolated in the laboratory. The dart has a small, stainless steel cutter located on the tip of an aluminum nosecone. The cutter encompasses a barbed capture claw to ensure sufficient sample retention. Upon impact, the dart extracts the tissue sample and falls to the ground to be retrieved by the shooter.
The DNA Dart provides an economical, efficient, accurate, and safe alternative method of extracting tissue samples. Without the dart, people must collect samples during specific seasons in order to cause the least amount of disruption to the natural and biological cycles of the deer. To obtain samples, animals often have to be trapped, run through chutes, sedated (which can last 45 -60 minutes), and brought out of sedation. The effects of the drugs combined with the physical handling of the animals causes an undesirable and immeasurable amount of stress to each animal. Dr. Gonzales observes, “This new design makes the tissue sample collection from wild animals easier for everyone involved.”
“The most important thing is that the dart eliminates the stress factor,” explains Mr. Raney, who has been present when registry members have used the dart. “It’s proven to be extremely helpful. One member has does that aren’t very gentle. Still, many of their offspring were turning out very well, so he wanted DNA documentation. [To get samples from the does] he broadcasts supplemental feed. When the does come to feed, he shoots them with the dart. He retrieves the dart, and in five minutes, the does have returned to feeding, seemingly unaffected by the experience.
Can a dart really provide quality samples?
Dr. Brandt Cassidy, Director of Operations at DNA Solutions, Inc., introduces new procedures into their laboratories and has worked with Pneu-Dart’s DNA Dart. “It provides a really good sample. The tissue we get [from the dart] is an ample amount for the testing we do to verify DNA.”
He went on to express the vital need for samples to be stored properly in a solution of alcohol. Because the barb traps and protects the sample inside the dart casing, it makes it very easy to ensure that the sample is properly stored and free of contamination. As Jim Raney offered, “The North American Whitetail Registry provides members with everything they need. All you have to do after retrieving the dart is loosen the tip so that air doesn’t get trapped. Drop the entire dart into the vial provided by the Registry and return it. The Registry will send the sample to the laboratory and provide [the farmer] with the proper paperwork.”
Those who have utilized the DNA Dart have responded positively. Dr. Cassidy described his experience with the DNA Dart favorably. “We have used it, and it works beautifully. I feel very comfortable in recommending that people use this dart as an accurate way of getting quality samples. DNA Solutions is willing and able to use samples from this dart.” Jim Raney endorses the product as well. “I’m proud to be in on the ground floor of something this exciting. This is going to help bring deer breeders into the 21st century. I think every serious deer farmer should highly consider [using it], if for no other reason than for their own pedigree information.”