Kakapo to have genomes sequenced in a world first for science
Every one of New Zealand's 125 remaining kakapo will have their genomes sequenced in a final effort to save them.
Championed by the famous travelling bird Sirocco, the highly endangered native parrot's DNA is thought to hold precious insights into fertility and disease resistance.
The Kakapo 125 project, launched on Monday by Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, will sequence all the genomes of kakapo in a world first.
"This is the first time genomes will be sequenced for an entire species population," Joyce said.
"This sequencing will allow scientists to refine their breeding programme so that each kakapo chick has the best chance of growing into a healthy adult."
Genome sequencing is a process that allows researchers to read and decipher the genetic information found in the DNA of any living thing.
Kakapo have been brought back from the brink of extinction with an intensive conservation effort centred on offshore islands.
When the Department of Conservation's Kakapo Recovery Team began its work in 1990, there were only 49 known living kakapo, Joyce said.
Hatchlings are currently being nurtured on the islands as the breeding season is still in progress. They too will have their genomes sequenced when they arrive.
The crowd-funded project is the vision of Department of Conservation scientist Andrew Digby, and is being carried out by New Zealand Genomics Limited (NZGL) and Genetics Otago.
Figures from NZGL stated the project was nearing its $68,000 funding target.
A genomics approach to kakapo conservation would be a help in developing breeding strategies in the bird's recovery programme, Associate Professor Bruce Robertson of Otago University said.
"We will be able to explore the genetic basis of infertility in kakapo. Only 60 per cent of eggs hatch, compared to about 90 per cent in other birds. Sperm abnormalities contribute to infertility."
Joyce said: "This project presents a world-leading approach to explore how greater genomics understanding across a whole population of an iconic species can contribute to its protection and the potential of this research is huge."
Alongside crowd-funding, the project has been made possible by funding from The Genetic Rescue Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation founded by Kiwi tech entrepreneur David Iorns.