To begin to explore the most pertinent questions relevant to black-footed ferret conservation and genetic rescue we selected specimens with unique demography that will allow us to simultaneously characterize the changes the black-footed ferret genome has undergone from the start of the captive program to the present as well as the genetic diversity that can be gained through genetic rescue efforts. To address these questions these ferrets represent individuals captured at Meeteetse, Wyoming in the 1980s and living ferrets born 2009 and 2010, spanning 25 years, or 15 generations.

DNA samples of two living ferrets born in captivity were provided by the Black-footed Ferret Recovery Team:

bff_recovery_team_logo_crop1.  Studbook number SB6573, a male named Cheerio, born 2009. Cheerio is still alive and has sired kits. Cheerio’s genome shares ancestry from all seven founders, presumably in equal amounts. All living ferrets are presumed to share similar ancestry to all seven founders, thus Cheerio is the proverbial “every ferret” of the living population for this research.

2.  Studbook number SB6815, a male named Balboa, born 2010. Balboa is unique; he was born by artificial insemination using the cryopreserved sperm of Rocky, a ferret captured at Meeteetse and assumed to be the son of one of the successfully breeding founders, Scarface. This form of “cryogenic artificial insemination” is a viable genetic rescue method, partially restoring genetic diversity lost over 20 years and 11 generations.

Cell cultures from two additional ferrets were provided by the San Diego Frozen Zoo. These two ferrets were captured at Meeteetse; they are members of the population that founded the captive breeding program; their genomes represent a sample of the genetic diversity of the founding generation of all living ferrets. However, these ferrets’ unique genetic lineages were lost completely during the captive breeding program; their cryopreserved cells are a resource for cloning and have the potential to restore lost as well as new genetic variation.

FrozenZooThe ferrets these cell cultures were derived from are:

3. ID 85, W2094, an unnamed male wild-caught at Meeteetse between 1985-1987. This male died of canine distemper before he could breed.

4. Studbook number SB10, a female named Willa, wild-caught at Meeteetse between 1985-1987. Willa successfully bred, but her kits died without leaving any descendants.

Reference Genome

To produce our data we have aligned the DNA sequences of each of the four black-footed ferrets to the domestic ferret reference genome – sequenced, assembled, and annotated by the Broad Institute. The DNA from the black-footed ferrets aligns to 90% of the 2.4 billion base pairs of genetic code, capturing all of the annotated genes and allowing us to examine genome-wide variation.

The Ferret Reference Genome, MusPutFur1.0, was sequenced from a female ferret. This assembly can be accessed on Genbank:

Genbank Assembly ID GCA_000215625.1
Genbank Genome Project ID AEYP00000000.1