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What's This Deer?

DNA technology is being used to identify the amount of elk genetic material in red deer/elk hybrids, by Genomnz, AgResearch's genetics analysis business.

Manager Ian Woodhouse says that previous tests based on blood proteins weren't considered accurate enough, and could only identify whether or not an animal had elk genes, rather than stating the percentage of elk genes. The new test is considerably more accurate and can estimate the percentage involved.

Deer farmers often want higher levels of breed purity, and therefore need to identify the animals with more elk genes within their hybrid herd. Many of these farmers are keen to upgrade their animals to the new New Zealand elk register, developed by the New Zealand Elk and Wapiti Society to complement its register of pure-bred imported elk. Other deer farmers plan to publicise their results in the elk catalogue, ensuring that potential buyers will know exactly what they're getting.

Woodhouse is expecting considerable interest in the test from overseas as well as New Zealand.

"The sophisticated computer programme we've developed to do much of the work is unique, which gives us a competitive advantage. It also ensures the test is carried out very quickly and is accurate".