Bird migration and conservation clues in robin and Turtle dove genomes

The genomes were read by the Sanger Institute and its partners, in celebration of Sanger’s 25th anniversary

Bird migration and conservation clues in robin and Turtle dove genomes

 

The European robin and Turtle dove have had their genetic code sequenced and assembled for the first time by scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and their collaborators. The genomes, completed* today (21 December) will enable researchers to explore the genetic switches controlling bird migration and give insight into the magneto receptors that help robins ‘see’ the Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation. The Turtle dove genome will help conservation efforts to save one of the UK’s fastest declining bird species.

European robins live throughout Europe, Russia and western Siberia. While most British robins reside in the UK over winter, some birds will migrate to southern Europe to overwinter in warmer climates. Simultaneously in winter, migrant robins from Scandinavia, continental Europe and Russia head to the UK to avoid the harsh weather back home.

Turtle doves also migrate, visiting their breeding grounds in Europe and spending the winter months in Africa. However, since 1995, 94 per cent of Turtle doves have been lost and there are fewer than 5,000 breeding pairs left in the UK. The Turtle dove is the UK’s fastest-declining bird species, and as a result, they are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List**.

Migration patterns and behaviours vary across species, but also within species. Similarly, environmental pressures such as disease and limited food resources affect various bird species differently. To fully understand the genetic components of complex traits, such as migration and breeding, the whole genetic code must be read and analysed.

The European robin's and Turtle dove's genomes were read by the Sanger Institute and its partners, in celebration of Sanger’s 25th anniversary.

Collaborators at the University of Lincoln sent robin and Turtle dove samples*** to the Sanger Institute near Cambridge. The sequencing teams extracted DNA from the samples and used PacBio SMRT Sequencing technology to generate the first reference genomes for robins and Turtle doves.

The European robin genome will enable researchers to explore the genetic switches that tell robins when to leave and where to go. The robin’s role as a model of bird migration will help in understanding the magneto receptors in birds’ eyes that allow them to use the Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation and also unpick migratory behaviour in other bird species.

“Birds can use the Earth’s magnetic field as a reference for orientation during the migratory journeys, and the magnetic compass in birds was first described in a robin. The European robin genome will allow us to identify what’s driving migration in birds, and understand the variability of migration in other bird species as well.”

Dr Miriam Liedvogel from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön, Germany

The Turtle dove genome will provide a genetic reference for determining effective population sizes and establishing breeding programmes in efforts to help conserve this threatened bird species.

“To give Turtle doves the best chance of survival in the future, we need to first understand the pressures that are affecting their population decline. The Turtle dove genome will give insights into how diseases and limited food resources impact on their health and will aid practical conservation efforts to maximise the genetic diversity of introduced populations.”

Dr Jenny Dunn from the University of Lincoln

The European robin and Turtle dove join the Golden Eagle as the first of 25 UK species to have their genetic code sequenced and assembled. The 25 Genomes Project**** includes species such as grey and red squirrels, blackberry and brown trout.

“Genome sequencing has a lot to offer the natural world. Genetic information can bolster the conservation of threatened species and help unravel the tree of evolution in understanding the species we share this planet with.”

Dr Julia Wilson, associate director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Notes to Editors

*The European robin and Turtle dove genomes have been completed to the Vertebrate Genomes Project platinum standard. Research continues to improve the quality of the genome sequences, which will be made available in 2019.

**https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22690419/119457869

***Robin and turtle dove DNA samples were taken from blood collected from live birds during routine health checks of populations.

****For more information on the 25 Genomes Project, visit https://www.sanger.ac.uk/science/collaboration/25-genomes-25-years

Funding:

The 25 Genomes Project is supported by Wellcome.

Selected Websites
The quest to sequence all life25 GenomesThe quest to sequence all life
What will reading the genomes of all life on earth uncover? And how does the Sanger Institute intend to lead the sequencing of an estimated 66,000 species in the UK? Associate Director of the Wellc…

Sequencing All Life On Earth – Facts and Figures25 GenomesSequencing All Life On Earth – Facts and Figures
Scientists have announced an ambitious goal to sequence all of life on earth. Here are 10 top facts that help to put the scale of the challenge into perspective…

What is a genome?FactsWhat is a genome?
A genome is an organism’s complete set of genetic instructions. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build that organism and allow it to grow and develop.

How are sequenced genomes stored and shared?FactsHow are sequenced genomes stored and shared?
After a genome has been sequenced, assembled and annotated it needs to be shared in a format that is easily and freely accessible to all. This can be done via a database called a genome browser.

How do you put a genome back together after sequencing?FactsHow do you put a genome back together after sequencing?
After DNA sequencing is complete, the fragments of DNA that come out of the machine are all jumbled up. Like a jigsaw puzzle we need to take the pieces of the genome and put them back together.

How do you identify the genes in a genome?FactsHow do you identify the genes in a genome?
After the sections of DNA sequence have been assembled into a complete genome sequence we need to identify where the genes and key features are, but how do we do this?

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