Chapter 13 Biopsy Darting
The widespread use of biopsy punches adapted for remote sample collection began in the 1980s.1,11 The technique allows for the collection of biologic materials without the need for, and the risks associated with, the capture and handling of animals. Before techniques for amplifying genetic material, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), were developed, biopsy samples were used in cell cultures to produce fibroblast cell lines and provide adequate amounts of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) for genetic analysis.
Subsequently, molecular genetic techniques advanced sufficiently to allow analysis without the need for cell culture. These same techniques have permitted genetic analyses to use other, noninvasively collected samples, such as feces, hair, or shed epithelial cells, and have led to some innovative approaches, such as netting sloughed skin from the surface of water around breaching whales or putting duct tape on the tip of a plastic syringe dart to pluck hair samples from primates.5,13
The ability to perform genetic analyses directly on biopsy material rather than requiring successful cell culture has also increased the utility of biopsy darting by eliminating the sample losses caused by bacterial and fungal contamination and making sample storage simpler. Concomitant with advances in genetic analytics, remote biopsy collection has become widely used when other options should not be employed. Increasingly, the technique is used to answer questions not related to genetics, such as those involving infectious and noninfectious diseases, toxicology, and biomarker assessment.4,6,7,15
Biopsy darts have been used in a wide range of vertebrate species, including more than 30 species of cetaceans, as well as many species of pinnipeds, carnivores, primates, ungulates, and birds3,7–12 (Box 13-1). Darts have even carried by teams searching for “Sasquatch” in the United States. The most common delivery mechanism for the biopsy instrument uses a dart projector (e.g., pistol, rifle), a crossbow, or a mounting on the end of an extension pole (Figures 13-1 through 13-4).