Friday, April 15, 2011

China's Scientists Sequence Crested Ibis Genome

Crested Ibis

It has been recently stated at a press conference in Xi'an that a team of scientists have sequenced the genome of the crested ibis in an effort that could help protect the endangered bird. One of the members named Li Shengbin of Xi'an Jiaotong University stated that researchers could explain the species' birth and mortality rate by understanding its genetic makeup. The team consisted of researchers from the university and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) in Shenzhen, who sequenced a two-year-old bird's DNA that was separated from 1.5 milliliters of its blood. They discovered that the ibis' genome contained 1.37 base pairs, which is about half of what is found in humans. When comparing the bird's genome to an egret's, the team found that the ibis' genome is far more fertile. According to BGI President Wang Jian, the sequencing process was precise and has moved up to international standards. He further added that there are still more ibises, whose DNA samples need to be collected for genetic and evolutionary studies before reaching any conclusion. This process of mapping crested ibis DNA has been part of BGI's 1000 plant and animal reference genome project, which was launched in January 2010. The institute hopes to establish one of the most comprehensive genome databases by 2012.

I'm very happy and proud to see what this group of scientists has done, in order to help revive the crested ibis population. This magnificent bird has been considered a symbol of good luck, and is the fourth to have its genome sequenced after the chicken, the turkey, and the zebra finch. During the 1930s and 40s, the population of the ibis was rapidly decimated and was even believed to be extinct by the late 1950s. However, in 1981, a group of scientists found seven of these birds in Yangxian County of Shaanxi. The discovery raised hopes saving the species. The latest count in China's ibis population shows 1,617 birds, which includes 997 in the wild and 620 in captivity. It is estimated that 1,814 of these birds exist in the world, with smaller populations in Japan and South Korea. I sure hope that this project in sequencing the ibis' genome will help in repopulating the species, and will one day be brought back to places where it once perished.

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