Badger genome created from WildCRU’s study animals in Wytham Woods

July 20, 2022

WildCRU’s Badger Project has proven invaluable in collecting a wealth of fundamental ecological data for over 30 years, and now, with a new reference genome available, we will be able to answer further questions about population biology and the evolution of badgers. For example, we are investigating whether early-life adversity affects individual badgers in later life and whether this is linked to epigenetic patterns, where gene expression is affected by environmental factors rather than altering the genetic code itself.

To create the genome, blood samples from three of our study animals, an individual badger plus both of its parents in Wytham Woods, were used by the Wellcome Sanger Institute (Darwin tree of life project). DNA from these samples was extracted and sequenced to produce a high-quality reference genome. Using data from the mother and the father meant that the genome sequence could be resolved into the distinct contributions from each parent.

Chris Newman said, “In previous research our team investigated why badgers are so prone to bovine tuberculosis, with the aim of trying to refine a vaccine. But without a badger genome we had to use ferret data as an analogue, which restricted what we could learn. Reference genomes allow you to answer questions you simply couldn’t otherwise, and I’m sure badger researchers will be excited to explore new paradigms in evolutionary ecology using this highly tractable mammal model.”

Ming-shan Tsai commented, “We know that factors like adverse weather conditions affect a badger’s survival, reproductive success and lifespan, and are interested to learn whether individual coping capacity can be predicted from their genome. By combining the vast amount of badger population data collected at Wytham since 1987 with the new reference genome, we can start to answer some of these intricate questions. This will also inform the field about the effect of climate change in wildlife populations at a molecular level.”

  • ©Alex White