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DNA pulled from polar bear paw prints

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Scientists have a new way to keep track of endangered polar bears by pulling DNA off footprints left in the snow.

"People don't realize it, but when you touch something you leave some cells," Bellemain said. It's invisible. However, by gathering these cells we can now gather information about the animals without ever seeing them," stated Eva Bellemain of Spygen Inc., the French company that created the method, which is currently being used to keep track of polar bears in Norway.

The technique is not only safer for both humans and the polar bears bykeeping them separated from each other, it will ultimately be cheaper in the long run. Using radio-collar data, scientists look for bears and when they find imprints that they're sure come from the same animal, they scoop the tracks and the snow into a plastic bag and taken back to the lab, where the snow is melted and filtered for the DNA samples. While at present the method is only able to confirm what species the DNA came from, it is hoped that within a year the scientists will be able to refine their ability to glean further information including the bear’s gender, data regarding its parentage, the structure of the population it came from and a general idea of the size of the territory is roams over.

"We'll get some results by the end of the year," Bellemain added. "Maybe the method will be available to use by the beginning of the year."