Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name

Zoo and Conservation Science-BS


Biology & Earth Science


Dr. Elizabeth V. Berkeley

First Committee Member

Dr. Elizabeth V. Berkeley

Second Committee Member

Dr. Anna Young

Third Committee Member

Dr. Michele Acker


perissodactyla, conservation, iron metabolism, rhinoceros

Subject Categories

Genetics | Molecular Biology | Molecular Genetics | Zoology


Iron overload disorder is a serious condition that affects many animals of conservation interest, including rhinoceroses. Iron overload disorder is only found in browsing rhinos (African black, Diceros bicornis, and Sumatran, Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) but not in grazing species (African white, Ceratotherium simum, and greater one-horned, Rhinoceros unicornis). Iron overload is connected with many of the other health issues seen in captive browsing rhinoceroses, so it is vitally important that the iron metabolism process is studied to improve the existing husbandry procedures of these critically endangered animals. The objective of this study was to characterize genes related to iron metabolism to determine if a genetic pattern exists that could help to describe the genetic basis of iron overload disorders in browser rhinoceroses. We amplified and sequenced the regions around the candidate mutations then analyzed those sequences for evidence of rapid evolution. We found derived mutations in the candidate genes are present in all black rhino subspecies, but not present in Sumatran rhinos. We did not find any evidence of positive selection on any site in any of the genes that we investigated. No mutations were conserved between black and Sumatran rhinos, which supports the idea that these two species likely have a different genetic basis for iron overload disorder. A better understanding of iron metabolism from a genetic perspective will improve diagnostic tools and preventative treatments for iron overload disorder in these endangered species.