Skip to main content

What is “Genetic Rescue”?

Climate change, habitat loss, and the over-harvesting of wildlife have led to declines in many species. As a result, many species are now highly inbred, threatening long-term recovery.

Genetic rescue is the process of increasing genetic variation within a population via breeding with captive bred, translocated, or cloned individuals. The goal is to increase the population’s genetic diversity — the raw material for adaptation in a changing world.

Historically, genetic rescue involved the assisted migration of individuals from one population to another, to introduce genetic variation and help the population grow. One of the most iconic examples is the Florida panther, which nearly went extinct in the 1990s, until a genetic rescue event helped rebuild genetic diversity and grow the population to over 200 individuals.

In recent years, cloning and gene editing technologies have introduced new paths for genetic rescue in wildlife species. These biotechnologies, paired with conventional captive breeding and translocation efforts, have the potential to rapidly accelerate genetic rescue in endangered and inbred species.

The Genetic Rescue Toolkit for Wildlife Conservation

With the increasing affordability of genomic sequencing and the expansion of gene-editing technologies, there is an opportunity to develop new genetic rescue tools that complement conventional conservation practices. To advance biotechnologies for wildlife, Revive & Restore is building the Genetic Rescue Toolkit, a suite of biotechnology tools that help solve some of the world’s most pressing conservation challenges.

As threats to wildlife increase with the pace of climate change, so too must our conservation strategies. By advancing the Genetic Rescue Toolkit, we are laying the foundation for unprecedented conservation approaches to tackle unprecedented conservation challenges. Genetic rescue is the goal, and the Genetic Rescue Toolkit provides the tools we need to get there.

The Genetic Rescue Toolkit for Wildlife Conservation | Revive & Restore

The Genetic Rescue Toolkit: From bottom to top, these biotechnologies form the building blocks of genetic rescue. Sequencing and biobanking are foundational tools that enable more advanced technologies, from cloning to genetic engineering.

Genetic Rescue Then and Now: The Florida Panther

Historically, genetic rescue has been a practice of helping animal populations suffering from low genetic diversity by introducing healthy individuals from unrelated populations. One success story is the Florida panther. In 1995, fewer than 30 Florida panthers lived in the wild. Due to a severe population bottleneck and inbreeding depression, irregular (or “maladaptive”) physical traits evolved and fertility declined.

To increase genetic diversity and save the species from extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife Service translocated eight female Texas cougars into Florida to mate with the panthers. The resulting population grew quickly and fitness increased. There are now between hundreds of panthers living in the Florida range. Genetic rescue was a success.

Florida Panther Everglades USFWS | Revive & Restore

A Florida panther living in Everglades National Park. The photo was taken in 2016. (USFWS)

The increase in genetic diversity improved the resilience and adaptability of the Florida panther population. This remains at the heart of all genetic rescue approaches. And, today’s genomic technologies offer a broader suite of methods, more specific outcomes, and more precise insights.

In 2019, for example, researchers performed a genetic analysis of Florida panthers to evaluate if the present generation was still benefiting from the 1995 translocation. Using genome sequencing, the team found that the panthers had retained higher diversity than expected. The team was also able to calculate a proactive management plan for future translocations. Their genomic insights revealed that the Florida panther population’s health can be maintained with at least five translocations every 20 years, enabling precise long-term planning to prevent future declines.

From genetic rescue to de-extinction, our biotechnology projects build new conservation strategies to help endangered and extinct species.

From genetic rescue to de-extinction, our biotechnology projects build new conservation strategies to help wildlife. Together, we can turn the tide on biodiversity loss.

Support genetic rescue technologies that save endangered species

Stay current on innovations in conservation biotechnologies