The genetic makeup of 363 bird species – from the humble chicken to the amazing bird of paradise – was first mapped by scientists.
The work of researchers at the Smithsonian Institute and about 100 other institutions involved analyzing over 17 trillion DNA base pairs from bird species.
Researchers say that 267 of the 363 species of birds found in this study sequenced their genome for the first time – expanding knowledge of the birds' family tree.
Since the first bird evolved more than 150 million years ago, its offspring have adapted to a variety of ecological niches, producing tiny, soaring hummingbirds, diving pelicans, and showy birds of paradise.
There are more than 10,000 species of birds on the planet today – and now scientists are well on their way to getting a full genetic portrait of this diversity.
Since the first bird evolved more than 150 million years ago, its offspring have adapted to a variety of ecological niches, creating tiny, hovering hummingbirds, diving pelicans and showy birds of paradise (picture).
The genetic makeup of 363 bird species – from the humble chicken (picture) to the amazing bird of paradise – was first mapped by scientists
Researchers say that 267 of the 363 bird species found in this study sequenced their genome for the first time – expanding knowledge of the birds' family tree
Published in the journal Nature, scientists sequenced the genomes of widely distributed, economically important birds such as the chicken, as well as rare, lesser-known species such as the Henderson crane that lives on an island in the Pacific.
According to the authors of the study, the species sequenced by the team represent more than 92 percent of the world's bird families.
The data from the study will advance research into the evolution of birds and contribute to their conservation as they are freely available to the scientific community.
The publication of the new genomes is an important milestone for the Bird 10,000 Genomes Project (B10K), an international collaboration between scientists.
Organized by researchers from around the world, the B10K project aims to sequence and share the genome of every species of bird on the planet.
"B10K is probably the single most important project ever undertaken studying birds," said Gary Graves, curator of birds at the National Museum of Natural History.
As part of the study, researchers looked at birds for 92 percent of all known bird species, including the golden eagle, Aquila chrysaetos
A male Anna's hummingbird, a native of Arizona, hovers in the air. This is just one of 363 bird species whose genome has been sequenced
"Not only do we hope to learn about the phylogenetic relationships between the main branches of the bird's tree of life, but we also provide a tremendous amount of comparative data for studying vertebrate evolution and life itself."
By comparing genomes between bird families, researchers can study how traits evolved in different birds and understand evolution at the molecular level.
Ultimately, B10K researchers want to build a comprehensive "bird tree of life" that will record the genetic relationships between all modern birds.
Not only will this knowledge reveal the birds' evolutionary past, but it will also be vital to future conservation efforts.
More than 150 ornithologists, molecular biologists and computer scientists came together to obtain samples and analyze more than 17 trillion DNA base pairs for the family-level phase of the B10K project.
Royal Flycatcher male (Onychorhynchus coronatus), photographed during the bird band research in Costa Rica, opens its spectacular comb feathers in a threat display. Birds of all shapes and sizes have been sequenced to help researchers understand their evolution
Approximately 40 percent of the newly sequenced genomes were found from tissue samples held in the Avian Genetic Resource Collection of the National Museum of Natural History, started in 1986 by Graves
Sequencing and analysis began in 2011, but the data represents several decades of work by field collectors and collection management staff collecting and conserving birds from every continent, Graves said.
Approximately 40 percent of the newly sequenced genomes were found from tissue samples stored in the Avian Genetic Resource Collection of the National Museum of Natural History, started in 1986 by Graves.
"It may seem like having a genome for each bird family or species is a bit like stamp collecting, but this massive collaboration has given us a number of very important genomic resources for conservation," said researcher Rob Fleischer.
Fleischer, director of the Center for Conservation Genomics at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, said this could help map the population decline.
"The presence of the genomes makes it easier to find genes that are responsible for important survival traits such as resistance to fatally introduced diseases."
Red-winged blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus. In the next few years, the researchers hope to have sequenced all 10,000 known bird species
By comparing genomes between bird families, researchers can study how traits developed in different birds and understand evolution at the molecular level
Sequencing and analysis began in 2011, but the data represents several decades of work by field collectors and collection management staff collecting and conserving birds from every continent, Graves said
"Through 34 years of field work and dozens of expeditions, we have been able to gather the high quality DNA that will make this project possible," said Graves.
“Much of these resources were saved long before DNA sequencing technology was developed, and kept for future analysis that their collectors could not have imagined at the time.
"This is one of the many reasons why natural history museum collections and museum research programs are so important!"
With 363 complete genomes, B10K expands its efforts to the next level of bird classification.
During this phase, the team will sequence thousands of additional genomes to represent each of the approximately 2,300 bird species.
The results were published in the journal Nature.
BIRDS USE SONG TO COMMUNICATE WITH OTHER BIRDS
Birds use their voices to communicate with other birds.
Sharp melodies are an efficient way to communicate over long distances, especially if you are small and live in dense habitats like rainforests.
Most bird species use special calls to identify themselves and communicate a nearby threat.
Bird singing is a special type of call that is used by many species to help them mate.
Chirping birds is almost entirely a male activity and helps the singer show that he is fit, healthy, and ready to breed.
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