Newly sequenced golden eagle genome will help its conservation

The golden eagle is the first of 25 UK species to be completed as part of the 25 Genomes Project

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.”

Dr Kerstin Howe Senior Scientific Manager of the Genome Reference Informatics Team at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

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

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Notes to Editors

*IUCN Red List: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22696060/0

**Golden eagle DNA samples were taken from chicks that had died naturally.

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

The 25 Genomes Project has been made possible by PacBio® long-read sequencing technology, which generates high-quality genomes. The Institute is partnering with PacBio and other leaders in the technology sector, 10x Genomics and Illumina, to create the most comprehensive view of these genomes.

The golden eagle genome represents the Accipitriformes, the order that includes eagles and ospreys, and will be added to the Genome 10K/Vertebrate Genomes Project, which will sequence the genomes of around 10,000 vertebrates over the next 5 years. https://genome10k.soe.ucsc.edu/

Funding:

The 25 Genomes Project is supported by Wellcome.

Selected websites

  • South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project

    Funded by The National Lottery, project partners, the Scottish Government and local LEADER Programmes, this ambitious, multi-partner project is working to reinforce the small, fragmentary population of golden eagles in south Scotland www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk. With great support from local communities, land managers, raptor specialists and conservationists, a wide range of scientific, educational and community-related activities are underway to boost the population.

  • Wellcome Sanger Institute

    The Wellcome Sanger Institute is one of the world’s leading genome centres. Through its ability to conduct research at scale, it is able to engage in bold and long-term exploratory projects that are designed to influence and empower medical science globally. Institute research findings, generated through its own research programmes and through its leading role in international consortia, are being used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for human disease. To celebrate its 25th year in 2018, the Institute is sequencing 25 new genomes of species in the UK. Find out more at www.sanger.ac.uk or follow @sangerinstitute

  • Wellcome

    Wellcome exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive. We’re a global charitable foundation, both politically and financially independent. We support scientists and researchers, take on big problems, fuel imaginations and spark debate. www.wellcome.ac.uk