SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — New research shows that bison in a secluded Utah herd are direct genetic descendants of the bison that once covered the American West, a find that could help the recovery of the iconic animals.

The study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE shows the approximately 350 animals in the Henry Mountains are free of cattle DNA. Most bison alive today still carry the genetic remnants of 19th century cow crossbreeding.

Lead researcher Dustin Ranglack says that cattle DNA can alter the bison characteristics, so conservationists want to use pure bison as they re-introduce them to the landscape.

Ranglack says the analysis also shows the herd located about 250 miles southeast of Salt Lake City is free from a highly contagious bacterial disease that has affected some Yellowstone bison.