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Snow Leopard Genomics

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Snow leopards are a particular challenge to study because they live in such remote environments and are difficult to even observe. Conservation efforts are plentiful, yet hindered by a basic lack of knowledge regarding snow leopards. Some of the most basic questions that we are trying to use genomic tools to help the snow leopard conservation community to answer are:

  • How genetically diverse are snow leopards? What genetic structure is there across the landscape? How connected are different snow leopard populations? 
  • How many snow leopards are there? At a local scale and globally? 
  • How large is a snow leopard’s range?
  • What are they eating?

Whole genome sequencing helps us make rangewide assessments as to their genetic diversity, structure, and interconnectedness. The SNP panel we developed answers to their population sizes and range. Fecal metabarcoding gives us insight into their diet. So far, our efforts at the Petrov lab have culminated in two projects:

  • Snow leopard reference genome 
    • We assembled genomes from 3 members of the Panthera genus, including the snow leopard, at the chromosome or near-chromosome level, combining short- and long-read technologies with proximity litigation data from Hi-C technology. These detailed efforts resulted in high continuity and contiguity for each individual.
  • Snow leopard range wide assessment 
    • We used whole genome sequencing data for 41 snow leopards to assess population connectivity, historic population size, and current levels of genetic diversity. We found snow leopards to have the lowest genetic diversity of all species within the Panthera genus, making them the most vulnerable to future anthropogenic challenges.


Fig 3 from the reference genome report published in Genes|Genomes|Genetics