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Genome Mapping of Endangered Parrot Boosts Conservation

Oct 01, 2012 08:06 AM EDT

Scientists have successfully sequenced the genome of the critically endangered Puerto Rican parrot. It is the only living native parrot species of the United States.

A genomic sequencing project funded by community donations has sequenced the DNA of the Puerto Rican parrot (scientifically known as Amazona vittata) or Iguaca. Using blood samples, about 76 percent of the Amazona vittata was sequenced.

The Amazona vittata was once thriving throughout the forests of the Puerto Rican island. But various factors like hunting for food, destruction of habitat for farming, pest control and cage-bird trading have all played a significant role in the decline of the bird population.

According to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the parrots' population (as of 2011) has been estimated to be 50-70 individuals spread over two areas in the wild. About 280 parrots are believed to be in captive. Since 1994, IUCN has placed the species in the critically endangered list.

Thanks to various conservation efforts, the bird species has been saved from becoming extinct. Although the population of the birds is now stable, they are still listed as critically endangered as their numbers are significantly less.

This is the first time that scientists have sequenced the genome of the parrots' DNA. They found that the birds' DNA was 84.5 percent similar to the genome sequences of zebra finches and 82.7 percent similar to a chicken.

"In this project we managed to cover almost 76 percent 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," redOrbit quoted Dr. Taras Oleksyk, organizer of the campaign to sequence the genome, as saying.

"When we compared our sequence of our parrot, Iguaca, from Rio Abajo to other species of birds, we found that she had 84.5 percent similarity to zebra finches and 82.7 percent to a chicken, but her genome was highly rearranged, he said.

Experts hope the DNA sequence of the Puerto Rican parrot will help in taking conservation efforts to save the species. They are planning to use the DNA for further analysis and comparison with other avian species.

The findings of the study are published in the BioMed Central and BGI's open access journal GigaScience.

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