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On Earth Day, a Shout Out to the Conservation Genomics Community

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Today is Earth Day, a great time to reflect on the growing trend of conversation genomics. We are proud that many scientists are using PacBio long-read sequencing for the goal of rescuing endangered species and preserving delicate ecosystems around the world.

One of the first examples we saw of this approach came from Oliver Ryder at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Ryder and his team performed SMRT Sequencing for the ‘alalā, a Hawaiian crow, which no longer existed in the wild. In this video, he describes how having a high-quality genome assembly for this bird will have a significant impact on biologists’ ability to breed and reintroduce healthy crows back to their native environment. Ryder is also a founder of the Genome 10K (G10K) project, which aims to create high-quality assemblies for 10,000 vertebrate species as part of a large-scale conservation effort.

We’ve also been impressed by public support for a crowdfunded conservation genomics project — this one for the kākāpō bird, a critically endangered species found only in New Zealand. David Iorns, founder of the Genetic Rescue Foundation, is using SMRT Sequencing to build a reference-grade de novo genome assembly for the bird, followed by resequencing all 125 remaining kākāpōs. These members of the parrot family are facing fertility issues, a major population bottleneck, and other challenges that make a conservation effort necessary to prevent them from going extinct.

Recently, conservation expert Rebecca Johnson from the Australian Museum Research Institute gave a talk on the de novo genome assembly of a koala. This lovable marsupial species has been on the radar of conservation biologists who want to protect it in part because it has a number of unique and interesting features. Johnson used SMRT Sequencing to analyze the 3.6 Gb genome, yielding what she calls the best marsupial assembly to date.

This year, Earth Day is also marked by the first-ever March for Science, including more than 500 marches across the globe to support better research funding and pro-science policies. We’ll be cheering on all the scientists involved in conservation genomics and other important efforts to protect our planet and all the creatures that call it home!

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