September 29, 2012
Community Fundraising Effort Helps Researchers Sequence Parrot Genome
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online
Thanks to a grassroots fundraising campaign, researchers were able to sequence the genome of the critically endangered Puerto Rican Parrot -- the only surviving member of its species in the United States.The project, which was funded primarily through community donations, was published Friday in BioMed Central and BGI's open access journal GigaScience. It is the first of the large Neotropical Amazona birds to be studied at the genomic level, the journal said in a prepared statement.
The Puerto Rican Parrot (or Amazona vittata) could once be found throughout the Caribbean archipelago, but experienced a severe population decline in the 19th century due to agriculturally-motivated deforestation. As of approximately 40 years ago, it was believed that only a handful of the birds had survived, and despite the success of captive breeding programs, there are still very few of these parrots living in the wild.
"In this project we managed to cover almost 76% of the A. vittata genome using money raised in art and fashion shows, and going door to door asking for the support of Puerto Rican people and local businesses," Dr. Taras Oleksyk, organizer of the campaign to sequence the genome, said. "When we compared our sequence of our parrot, Iguaca, from Rio Abajo to other species of birds, we found that she had 84.5% similarity to zebra finches and 82.7% to a chicken, but her genome was highly rearranged."
"We are very proud of our project and even more proud to be part of a local community dedicated to raising awareness and furthering scientific knowledge of this endangered bird," Dr. Oleksyk added. "All the data from this project is publically available“¦ which we hope will be a starting point for comparative studies across avian genome data, and will be used to develop and promote undergraduate education in genome science in the Caribbean. Community involvement may be the key for the future of conservation genetics, and many projects like this are needed reverse the current rate of extinction of birds across the globe."
The project was funded in a handful of unique and creative ways, according to GigaScience. Student groups organized art shows and fashion shows, while other community members turned to social networking websites and even chipped in with private donations from regular citizens to help raise the $3 billion required to sponsor the research.
"What is remarkable here“¦ is that it shows how accessible genomic technology has become," GigaScience officials said in a statement. "This project serves as a signal that work on large-scale whole-genome projects is becoming more democratized, and opens the door for more creative input from outside the large genome centers."
As for the actual genome, the scientists report that it is approximately half the size of the human genome (approximately 1.58 genomic biomarker panels or Gbp). The research was carried out at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (UPRM) biology department.