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Recently, it has been shown that scavenger species, especially vultures (Cathartidae family), are declining across Africa and Asia. Inadvertent poisoning led to the critical endangerment of three Asian vulture species, and the use of an agricultural pesticide is now suspected to be the cause of the drastic declines in African vultures. These acts of human interference may have cascading effects as the vultures decline and abandon a critical niche. In the absence of these key scavengers, carcasses are not consumed as quickly and become more available to other scavengers and carnivores. Diseases such as Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and Rabies are likely to spread. To assess this possibility of increased pathogen transmission in the absence of vultures, I aim to develop and test a safe method to determine if a carnivore has ingested a bacterium. A nonpathogenic fluorescently tagged strain of E. coli serves as the safe mimic of a pathogen. This bacterium was placed on meat samples and its fluorescence detected over a series of time (five or three days) to determine the longevity and detectability of the bacterium on meat samples. Through fluorometry, I determined that the bacterium could be reliably detected for at least 24 hours post-treatment. This first step is one of many, as the methodology will hopefully extend to further laboratory studies and eventual application in the field to fully understand the ecological consequences of vulture decline.
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Nathanson, Olivia Z., "Developing a safe method to study pathogen transmission" (2011). Senior Projects Spring 2011. 100.