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Coupling gene-based and classic veterinary diagnostics improves interpretation of health and immune function in the Agassiz's desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
AuthorDrake, K. Kristina
Lewison, Rebecca L.
Esque, Todd C.
Nussear, Kenneth E.
Waters, Shannon C.
Miles, A. Keith
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The analysis of blood constituents is a widely used tool to aid in monitoring of animal health and disease. However, classic blood diagnostics (i.e. hematologic and plasma biochemical values) often do not provide sufficient information to determine the state of an animal's health. Field studies on wild tortoises and other reptiles have had limited success in drawing significant inferences between blood diagnostics and physiological and immunological condition. However, recent research using gene transcription profiling in the threatened Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) has proved useful in identifying immune or physiologic responses and overall health. To improve our understanding of health and immune function in tortoises, we evaluated both standard blood diagnostic (body condition, hematologic, plasma biochemistry values, trace elements, plasma proteins, vitamin A levels) and gene transcription profiles in 21 adult tortoises (11 clinically abnormal10 clinically normal) from Clark County, NV, USA. Necropsy and histology evaluations from clinically abnormal tortoises revealed multiple physiological complications, with moderate to severe rhinitis or pneumonia being the primary cause of morbidity in all but one of the examined animals. Clinically abnormal tortoises had increased transcription for four genes (SOD, MyD88, CL and Lep), increased lymphocyte production, biochemical enzymes and organics, trace elements of copper, and decreased numbers of leukocytes. We found significant positive correlations between increased transcription for SOD and increased trace elements for copper, as well as genes MyD88 and Lep with increased inflammation and microbial insults. Improved methods for health assessments are an important element of monitoring tortoise population recovery and can support the development of more robust diagnostic measures for ill animals, or individuals directly impacted by disturbance.