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Black-footed ferrets narrowly avoided extinction in the 1980s when only 18 individual animals were left to repopulate the entire species. Today, the black-footed ferret is making a comeback but remains at risk of extinction partly due to multiple fertility challenges, which are likely related to the loss of gene diversity and the possible presence of damaging mutations due to the small number of animals used to re-establish the species. Researchers will scan the genomes of black-footed ferrets looking for gene mutations associated with male fertility. Since 1988, the percentage of normal sperm cells in male black-footed ferrets has decreased from 50 percent to 20 percent, a worrying trend impacting their long-term survival. Identifying genetic features limiting reproductive function in black-footed ferrets will aid in continued conservation measures to help this species thrive in the wild.

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Smithsonian Institution
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United States
Klaus-Peter Koepfli, PhD
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