Newly sequenced golden eagle genome will help its conservation
Conservation and monitoring efforts for the golden eagle will benefit from the newly-completed golden eagle genome sequence – the first of 25 species’ genomes sequenced by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh.
The golden eagle genome, released today (31 August), will help scientists and conservationists understand the diversity and viability of the species worldwide. It will ultimately aid the monitoring of existing, reinforced and reintroduced populations of golden eagles, such as those in the South of Scotland Golden Eagle translocation project, which aims to bolster the protected species’ population.
There are around 300,000 golden eagles worldwide, with between 9,300-12,300 pairs living in Europe. Despite being listed as ‘least concern’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species* and having widespread populations worldwide, the 508 breeding pairs of golden eagles in the UK are largely restricted to the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
The Scottish population is on the edge of the global range, and many existing world populations are small and declining.
For the first time, the golden eagle has had its genome sequenced by the Sanger Institute and its partners, in celebration of Sanger’s 25th anniversary.
The genome will enable additional studies of golden eagles and will help in the conservation and monitoring of the species. The genetic information will aid in identifying populations or individuals that might be best involved in any reintroduction or other conservation projects.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies sent golden eagle 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, high-quality golden eagle reference genome.
“With the golden eagle genome sequence, we will be able to compare the eagles being relocated to southern Scotland to those already in the area to ensure we are creating a genetically diverse population. We will also be able to start investigating the biological effects of any genetic differences that we detect, not only within the Scottish population, but worldwide.”
Dr Rob Ogden, Head of Conservation Genetics at the University of Edinburgh and a scientific adviser to the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project
“It’s fantastic to see the completion of the golden eagle genome sequence. Throughout the 25 Genomes Project, we have come up against some challenges in sequencing and assembling these 25 species for the first time. We are developing new techniques which will ultimately improve the way we sequence and assemble many other species, including humans, in the years to come.”
The golden eagle is the first of 25 UK species to be sequenced; the 25 Genomes Project*** includes species such as grey and red squirrels, blackberry, robin and brown trout.
The high-quality genomes will open doors for scientists to use this information, and researchers could discover how UK species are responding to environmental pressures, and what secrets they hold in their genetics that enables them to flourish, or flounder.
“We are delighted to announce that the golden eagle genome, the first species of the 25 Genomes Project, is complete. Using the biological insights we will get from the golden eagle genome, we can look to our responsibilities as custodians of life on this planet, and tend life on Earth in a more informed manner using those genome sequences at a time when nature around us is under considerable pressure.”
Dr Julia Wilson, Associate Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute