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Red Wolf Alleles Off Texas

Researchers have uncovered red wolf genes within a population of wild dogs living in Texas, Gizmodo reports.

Red wolves were declared extinct in the wild in the US by the 1980s, though one population of captive wolves was used as part of a breeding program to resurrect the lost species, according to Princeton University. While that program led to the re-introduction of wolves, that population then also dwindled.

But, Ron Wooten, a wildlife biologist on Galveston Island, has been observing a population of wild dogs didn't resemble local coyotes and got in touch with the Princeton researchers, who run the North American Canine Ancestry Project, to ask them to analyze samples from those wild dogs, according to Gizmodo.

As they now report in the journal Genes, a team led by Princeton's Bridgett vonHoldt examined mitochondrial and genomic DNA from two of these dogs and compared it to a set of 60 reference canids from North America. They found that these Galveston Island dogs and red wolves possess a high level of allele sharing and that the wild dogs harbored variation not seen in any other canines tested.

"This variation may represent the red wolf derived genes that were lost as a result of captive breeding," first author Elizabeth Heppenheimer says in a statement. "It's incredibly rare to rediscover animals in a region where they were thought to be extinct, and it's even more exciting to show that a piece of an endangered genome has been preserved in the wild."

This, the researchers say, could help further red wolf conservation efforts by increasing genetic diversity.