Monday, January 28, 2013


I love science news (and I'm happy to admit I'm a bit of a geek). I always drift around science websites looking up the latest news. I can't wait for the arrival of Comet ISON! But I digress.

Today in the paper they announced something really cool: they’ve sequenced the genome for the Arabian Oryx!

The Arabian Oryx is an endangered gazelle that once roamed the Arabian Peninsula. There aren’t many left, their numbers quickly dwindled once the locals acquired rifles and 4x4 vehicles, and by the 1960s they were in danger of going extinct. I'm not sure there are any Oryx left in the wild, I believe they are all in captivity in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries.

A few years ago I visited in Oryx sanctuary in Qatar as part of the tour with the Qatar National History Group. While the breeding programs appear to be working out well there were still concerns as to whether the Oryx would be able to survive outside of captivity. They would need a large area to roam in, something that can't happen in Qatar anymore with all the development, and they would likely be hunted by poachers. Apparently a number of them were released into the mountains near the Oman-UAE border but they didn't last very long. An Oryx would likely fetch tens of thousands of riyal on the black market and while Qataris are on average wealthy not everyone in the Gulf is -- that kind of money would be very tempting to many Omanis and Saudis.

I also had an opportunity to ask an older Qatari if Oryx was delicious. He didn't hesitate, “Oh yes, very tasty! That's why there aren't any left, we ate them all.” This followed with a detailed discussion about how to cook Oryx. Apparently it's similar to venison so needs to be cooked for a long time or else the meat is tough to chew. (At this point I really hoped that the fence around the sanctuary was secure, sounds like there's still a lot of Arabs who would love to have some Oryx for dinner.)

Anyway, I'm glad to hear that the genome was sequenced. They are now sequencing more DNA from other Arabian Oryx get a better idea of the genetic diversity available. Chances are the remaining Oryx do not have much diversity due to the small numbers is a significant risk of inbreeding.

If you would like to look at the scientific data it too is available online at the university's website.

Go Science!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You may recal that the "older gentleman" was the Director of the Oryx facility.