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Lion Reference Genome

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Lion populations in Africa are under threat due to poaching, largely driven by a demand from Asia for lion bones to be used in tiger-bone wine. Until recently, there was also a legal trade in lion bones from lion farms out of South Africa, making it difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal lion bones. We are working with conservation partners to create a SNP panel that can be used on lion bones to distinguish between farm-bred (legal) and wild (illegal) lion sources, as well as to identify the geographic origin of wild lion materials. 

As part of this ongoing effort, in collaboration with SANBI, we completed a chromosome-level reference genome assembly composed of long-read data. Variability in the length of runs suggest potential recent inbreeding and bottleneck events, which are reflected in ancient histories of most individuals during the Pleistocene aside from the Asiatic lion, which experienced more recent population decline. Funding for this research was awarded by the Realizing Environmental Innovation Program at Stanford, and the report was published in BMC Biology.