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Genome Galaxy Initiative:
On a Mission to Sequence the Beautiful and Mysterious Kākāpō

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Photo courtesy of Andrew Digby, DOC New Zealand

Photo courtesy of Andrew Digby, DOC New Zealand

New Zealand is more than an amazing vacation destination or the setting of the Lord of the Rings movies; it’s also home to a wealth of fascinating species that evolved in isolation for millions of years. The critically endangered kākāpō bird is one such species, and it needs your help now.

David Iorns, a native New Zealander and founder of the Genetic Rescue Foundation, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money and pursue a grand vision: saving kākāpōs from extinction.  With a high-quality genome already underway using SMRT Sequencing, Iorns wants to resequence all remaining 125 kākāpōs. If funded, this project would be the first to digitally capture the genetics of every extant member of a species. Iorns hopes the data generated from these resequencing efforts, combined with the high-quality reference genome needed for interpretation, will help scientists better understand the genetic diversity of kākāpōs and ultimately prevent this species from going extinct.

Kākāpōs are part of the parrot family, but they’re nocturnal, flightless, and very heavy, making them unlike most of their better-known cousins. “They’re special and they’re worth saving,” Iorns says. Because the population has dwindled to so few members, conservation and breeding efforts have proven challenging. Sequencing every bird will provide an “incredibly rich genetic dataset that will help us get to the bottom of some of these fertility and genetic bottleneck-related problems,” he adds.

This project turned to PacBio’s Genome Galaxy Initiative on Experiment, a scientific crowdfunding platform, for public support. Iorns, who previously used crowdfunding to sequence the extinct moa bird, says he gravitated to Experiment’s platform because he’s a citizen scientist who doesn’t follow traditional research funding methods. For the kākāpō project, he hopes to raise $45,000 – you can be a part of this effort and follow this scientific expedition with a small contribution to the cause.

PacBio launched the Genome Galaxy Initiative to help support researchers looking for alternative ways to fund research breakthroughs propelled by SMRT Sequencing. Even a small donation can help scientists begin to address critical, underfunded issues. All donations are refunded if projects do not reach their funding campaign goals. We’re excited to see growing support for this kākāpō project and look forward to many more Genome Galaxy Initiative proposals to come.

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