BIG SKY – Ongoing research in Yellowstone is revealing a curious relationship between a wolf’s coat color and its health. Preliminary studies with CRISPR technology—a tool for editing genomes—shows that something different is going on when a black wolf is exposed to canine distemper versus one that is gray.

Through a partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles, biologists from Yellowstone National Park developed cell cultures derived from skin swabs from the ears of wild Yellowstone wolves.

“This is the first time that cell lines [or cell cultures] have been developed and gone through such experimentation from a wild animal,” said park biologist Dan Stahler during the Biennial Scientific Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem held at Big Sky Resort in mid-September. Stahler is the project leader for the Yellowstone Wolf Project.

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