This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the Avian Genomics Conference and Gene Ontology Annotation Workshop

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The value of avian genomics to the conservation of wildlife

Michael N Romanov18*, Elaina M Tuttle2, Marlys L Houck1, William S Modi1, Leona G Chemnick1, Marisa L Korody2, Emily M Stremel Mork1, Christie A Otten1, Tanya Renner1, Kenneth C Jones3, Sugandha Dandekar4, Jeanette C Papp4, Yang Da5, NISC Comparative Sequencing Program6, Eric D Green6, Vincent Magrini7, Matthew T Hickenbotham7, Jarret Glasscock7, Sean McGrath7, Elaine R Mardis7 and Oliver A Ryder1

Author affiliations

1 Genetics Division, San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research, Zoological Society of San Diego, Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Conservation Research, 15600 San Pasqual Valley Rd., Escondido, CA 92027, USA

2 Dept. of Biology, Indiana State University, Science 285E, 403-25 North 6th St., Terre Haute, IN 47809, USA

3 Genetic Identification Services, 9552 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Chatsworth, CA 91311, USA

4 UCLA Sequencing and Genotyping Core, Dept. of Human Genetics, 5309 Gonda, 695 Charles E. Young Dr. South, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

5 Dept. of Animal Science, 265D Haecker Hall, University of Minnesota, 1364 Eckles Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108, USA

6 Genome Technology Branch and NIH Intramural Sequencing Center (NISC), National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, 50 South Dr., Bldg. 50, Rm. 5222, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA

7 Washington University Genome Sequencing Center, Washington University School of Medicine, Campus Box 8501, 4444 Forest Park Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108, USA

8 BACPAC Resources, Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, 747 52nd St., Oakland, CA 94609, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2009, 10(Suppl 2):S10  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-10-S2-S10

Published: 14 July 2009



Genomic studies in non-domestic avian models, such as the California condor and white-throated sparrow, can lead to more comprehensive conservation plans and provide clues for understanding mechanisms affecting genetic variation, adaptation and evolution.

Developing genomic tools and resources including genomic libraries and a genetic map of the California condor is a prerequisite for identification of candidate loci for a heritable embryonic lethal condition. The white-throated sparrow exhibits a stable genetic polymorphism (i.e. chromosomal rearrangements) associated with variation in morphology, physiology, and behavior (e.g., aggression, social behavior, sexual behavior, parental care).

In this paper we outline the utility of these species as well as report on recent advances in the study of their genomes.


Genotyping of the condor resource population at 17 microsatellite loci provided a better assessment of the current population's genetic variation. Specific New World vulture repeats were found in the condor genome. Using condor BAC library and clones, chicken-condor comparative maps were generated. A condor fibroblast cell line transcriptome was characterized using the 454 sequencing technology.

Our karyotypic analyses of the sparrow in combination with other studies indicate that the rearrangements in both chromosomes 2m and 3a are complex and likely involve multiple inversions, interchromosomal linkage, and pleiotropy. At least a portion of the rearrangement in chromosome 2m existed in the common ancestor of the four North American species of Zonotrichia, but not in the one South American species, and that the 2m form, originally thought to be the derived condition, might actually be the ancestral one.


Mining and characterization of candidate loci in the California condor using molecular genetic and genomic techniques as well as linkage and comparative genomic mapping will eventually enable the identification of carriers of the chondrodystrophy allele, resulting in improved genetic management of this disease.

In the white-throated sparrow, genomic studies, combined with ecological data, will help elucidate the basis of genic selection in a natural population. Morphs of the sparrow provide us with a unique opportunity to study intraspecific genomic differences, which have resulted from two separate yet linked evolutionary trajectories. Such results can transform our understanding of evolutionary and conservation biology.