NIR and the Protection of Living Fossils

The Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) is the world’s largest amphibian (1.8 m in length and up to 40 kg) and represents an early branch in the amphibian family tree. Due to its popularity both as a culinary delicacy and an ingredient in traditional medicine, it has been over-exploited and is now listed as Critically Endangered in the wild.

A rapidly expanding aquaculture industry has arisen to meet the demand for food and medicine, but breeding programmes are complicated by the species’ lack of external sexual morphology and late sexual maturity. A joint research team from Memphis Zoological Society, Mississippi State University and Shaanxi Institute of Zoology evaluate the use of NIR spectroscopy as a sex screening tool as reported in NIR news (doi: 10.1255/nirn.1510).

A hazard to both farmed and wild populations is the prevalence of Ranavirus; until now there has been no rapid technique for monitoring the presence and spread of the virus in aquaculture environments, but it is hoped that NIR spectroscopy may be a suitable method for identifying skin associated pathogens such as Ranavirus at an early stage, allowing for the isolation and treatment of infected individuals and preventing the accidental introduction of the virus into hitherto unaffected wild populations when farmed individuals are released.