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Scientists Try To Map Animal Genes To Save Them From Extinction Down the Line

The project has similarities with the Earth BioGenome Project, which seeks to catalog the genomes for 1.5 million species.

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This undated photo provided by NOAA Fisheries, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows alewives, a species of river herring in North Kingstown, R.I. The federal government's National Marine Fisheries Service is looking at the health of the populations of alewives and blueback herring to see if the little fish should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. VOA
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A group of scientists unveiled the first results Thursday of an ambitious effort to map the genes of tens of thousands of animal species, a project they said could help save animals from extinction down the line.

The scientists are working with the Genome 10,000 consortium on the Vertebrate Genomes Project, which is seeking to map the genomes of all 66,000 species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish on Earth. Genome 10,000 has members at more than 50 institutions around the globe, and the Vertebrate Genomes Project last year.

The consortium Thursday released the first 15 such maps, ranging from the Canada lynx to the kakapo, a flightless parrot native to New Zealand.

Future conservation

The genome is the entire set of genetic material that is present in an organism. The release of the first sets is “a statement to the world that what we want to accomplish is indeed feasible,” said Harris Lewin, a professor of evolution at University of California, Davis, who is working on the project.

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The work is intriguing because it could inform future conservation efforts of jeopardized species. VOA

“The time has come, but of course it’s only the beginning,” Lewin said.

The work will help inform future conservation of jeopardized species, scientists working on the project said. The first 14 species to be mapped also include the duck-billed platypus, two bat species and the zebra finch. The zebra finch was the one species for which both sexes were mapped, bringing the total to 15.

Sequencing the genome of tens of thousands of animals could easily take 10 years, said Sadye Paez, program director for the project. But giving scientists access to this kind of information could help save rare species because it would give conservationists and biologists a new set of tools, she said.

Paez described the project as an effort to “essentially communicate a library of life.”

Three sequencing hubs

Tanya Lama, a doctoral candidate in environmental conservation at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, coordinated the effort to sequence the lynx genome. The wild cat is the subject of debate about its conservation status in the United States, and better understanding of genetics can better protect its future, Lama said.

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Genome 10,000 has members at more than 50 institutions around the globe, and the Vertebrate Genomes Project last year. Pixabay

“It’s going to help us plan for the future, help us generate tools for monitoring population health, and help us inform conservation strategy,” she said.

The project has three “genome sequencing hubs,” including Rockefeller University in New York, the Sanger Institute outside Cambridge, England, and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, organizers said.

The work is intriguing because it could inform future conservation efforts of jeopardized species, said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity who is not involved in the project. More information about animals’ genetics could lead to better understanding of how animals resist disease or cope with changes in the environment, she said.

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Sequencing the genome of tens of thousands of animals could easily take 10 years, said Sadye Paez, program director for the project. Pixabay

“I think what’s interesting to me from a conservation aspect is just what we might be able to discern about the genetic diversity within a species,” Matteson said.

Also Read: British Scientists Use Sunlight And Convert it to Fuel

The project has similarities with the Earth BioGenome Project, which seeks to catalog the genomes for 1.5 million species. Lewin chairs that project’s working group. The Vertebrate Genomes Project will contribute to that effort. (VOA)

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India To Release 8 Endangered White-Backed Vultures In The Wild

Prior to this release, two captive Himalayan griffon vultures were released in the wild.

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This will help understanding their behaviour and survival instincts in the wild. Flickr

Eight captive-reared critically endangered white-backed vultures are set to take wings early next year for the first time in India since the vulture conservation centre near here was set up in September 2001.

The Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre on the edge of the Bir Shikargaha Wildlife Sanctuary is a joint project of Haryana and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) with the British government’s Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species Fund to investigate the massive decline of three critically endangered Gyps species of vultures in India.

Six captive-bred vultures and two rescued from the wild will be tagged with a 30-gram device for satellite telemetry each with a battery backup of three-four years and this will help understanding their behaviour and survival instincts in the wild, BNHS Principal Scientist Vibha Prakash told IANS here.

 

He said the vultures would be released most probably by March-April next year in the Bir Shikargaha sanctuary where the BNHS is working to declare it as vulture safe zone, which extends transboundary into Himachal Pradesh where the wildlife awareness among the villagers is quite high.

 

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These birds have been shifted to the pre-release aviary for over a year and a half. Flickr

 

“If any of the released vulture die or get injured, we can recover them. Satellite telemetry will help us to know the cause of death and prevent other vultures dying from that cause.”

The satellite tags will also be useful in discovering whether the captive-bred birds behave normally in the wild with other closely-related species.

In the first event of its kind in South Asia, the government of Nepal and national and international conservation organisations released critically endangered white-backed vultures in the wild on November 9, 2017.

 

India is home to nine species of vultures. Three of these species, the white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures, underwent catastrophic population declines of greater than 90 per cent in the mid-1990s. The birds are now listed as critically endangered.

 

The vulture, nature’s scavenger, cleans the environment of animal carcasses. Villagers rely on them to dispose of cattle carcasses.

 

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Indian Vulture (Gyps indicus) at Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, India, March 2018. Flickr

 

The reason, say biologists, for bringing the vultures to the brink of extinction in South Asia mainly to the extensive use of diclofenac in treating cattle.Vultures that consumed the carcass of animals treated with diclofenac died with symptoms of kidney failure. The Indian government banned its veterinary use in 2006.

BNHS scientist Prakash said “if there is no toxicity-related death of these eight birds in two years, then we will go for release of 20-25 birds each year”.

“We are planning to introduce 100 pairs each of the three species of white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed in the wild in the next 10 years. Before that, findings from the first proposed release batch will be crucial in the future programmes.”

The long-billed and slender-billed vultures will be released in Madhya Pradesh and Assam, respectively.

Officials admit the flight to freedom of these endangered vultures is still caught in red-tapism in the Haryana Forest Department, which has been authorised to procure 10 platform terminal transmitters or satellite telemetries through global bidding.

 

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The satellite tags will also be useful in discovering whether the captive-bred birds behave normally in the wild. Flickr

 

“These birds have been shifted to the pre-release aviary for over a year and a half. Twice their release was postponed last year. The only hurdle is the procurement of satellite telemetries and that too is bogged down by bureaucratic delays,” an official, requesting anonymity, told IANS.

“The birds are now two to four years old and this is the best age group for their release. The delay in their release will definitely delay the vulture reintroduction programme,” he added.

Prior to this release, two captive Himalayan griffon vultures were released in the wild in June 2016 from the Pinjore centre on an experimental basis.

Both birds were wing-tagged and leg-ringed for identification, but not tagged with satellite transmitters.

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Himalayan Griffon Vulture. Flickr

It was part of Asia’s first Gyps Vulture Reintroduction Programme under which the captive-bred birds were to be introduced in the wild.

The team managed to monitor one released bird for a day before it disappeared, while the second bird was tracked for almost a month and never sighted again.

Also Read: ‘The Last Animals’ Sheds Light on Rhino, Elephant Extinction

The Pinjore centre, Asia’s first centre of its kind, houses 289 Gyps species vultures; 198 of them bred at the facility that is funded by the central government.

Two such conservation and breeding centres are in Rani in Assam and Rajabhatkhawa in West Bengal. (IANS)