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DGGE Analysis for Non-Invasive Studies of Primate Diet

Jodi A. Irwin, Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Northwestern University Medical School, 303 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago, Il 60611-3008 j-irwin@nwu.edu; Cristin Orrego, Conservation Genetics Laboratory, Department of Biology, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA 94132 cob@sfsu.edu


Introduction

The applications of denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) to the investigation and diagnosis of human genetic diseases are well-known (Fodde and Losekoot 1994). More recently, however, DGGE has also become a valuable tool for addressing questions pertaining to natural history. It has been applied to studies of population genetics (Lessa and Applebaum 1993) and phylogeography (Lessa 1992), and it has been particularly useful in analyses of microbial communities (Muyzer et al. 1993, Murray et al. 1996).

We demonstrate the use of DGGE as a molecular technique that can be employed in the absence of behavioral data for examining the diet of free-ranging howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra) (Figure 1). The difficulties associated with the collection of behavioral data for diet studies are well known. These include problems related to observing monkeys through thick foliage, the large distances separating observer from subject, and the difficulty of identifying tree species with very similar leaf morphologies. In order to circumvent these problems, we investigated the potential of a polymerase chain reaction* (PCR)/DGGE method for augmenting knowledge of the howler diet. We hope that the development of a non-invasive technique for examining diet will facilitate studies of wild populations, particularly those for which behavioral data are not available
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