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Songbird reference genome aids avian research 

Researchers have developed a standard DNA code for a species of wild bird, to support studies in avian biology. 

Scientists have detailed the DNA code for an Arctic breeding migratory wild songbird, in a study that will bolster research into avian behaviour, environmental adaptability and evolution.  

They have transcribed the genome of the white-crowned sparrow, a longstanding model species used by scientists to understand the biology of birds. 

The outcome, in a study led by the Roslin Institute with colleagues in the US, should enrich and enable future studies that make use of the small songbird species as a model. 

Detailing DNA 

Researchers developed the bird’s genome using tissue recovered from birds in the wild. 

Genomic data was derived from samples using technology that produces lengthy transcriptions of DNA, together with a separate technique that gives insights on 3D aspects of the genome. 

The resulting reference genome of more than 1.1 billion base pairs – the fundamental units that compose the double-helix – is the most detailed description of the species’ DNA to date. 

Supporting research 

The reference tool may be used by researchers around the world, for example in studies of bird behaviour, evolution, or physiology. It may enable better understanding of fundamental aspects of avian biology, and to investigate specific aspects of behaviour, such as how birds respond to stress and climate change. 

The study, supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, was published in Scientific Data. 

This high-quality genome assembly is a useful research tool to support work in bird biology. It represents an important step in creating reference materials that act as a building block to further our knowledge of avian species.

Dr Jacqueline SmithRoslin Institute

This will allow us to have a deeper understanding of the molecular pathways that regulate annual reproductive cycles, behaviour and resilience of these Arctic breeding birds to survive in a rapidly changing world.

Professor Simone MeddleRoslin Institute

 ** The Roslin Institute receives strategic investment funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and it is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. ** 

Related links 

Scientific publication 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons