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What’s the Norfolk link to this endangered cousin of the dodo, the pink pigeon?

PUBLISHED: 17:30 20 March 2017 | UPDATED: 08:32 21 March 2017

Norwich scientists are trying to save the endangered pink pigeon. Picture: Durrell

Norwich scientists are trying to save the endangered pink pigeon. Picture: Durrell

Durrell

Save the pink pigeon! Dick Dastardly would’ve been horrified at any attempt to encourage a colourful cousin of his notorious foe.

But scientists in Norfolk are at the forefront of a bid to preserve the rare bird’s small population on the island paradise of Mauritius.

And along the way the experts from Earlham Institute (EI) and University of East Anglia (UEA) hope to help develop a new conservation breeding strategy for many more endangered species.

“Conservation genomics to the rescue, saving the pink pigeon #seqthepinkpigeon” is a research project led by the Etwo organisations in partnership with PacBio.

Earlham Institute is one of five finalists and the only UK entry selected by a scientific committee to win a PacBio SMRT Sequencing grant.

It would be the first endangered bird species to have its genetic make-up sequenced by the Pacific Biosciences Iso-Seq method; the potential project will identify immune system genes and their variants which enable the unique species’ survival from a disease humans unwittingly introduced to the island.

The pink pigeon made a miraculous recovery from 10 birds in 1990 to around 400. However, the species is severely hindered by its endangered status. Over 60pc of its young have been struck down by an invasive pathogen introduced by humans, Trichomonas gallinae. Predators such as cats, monkeys, rats and mongoose raid nests and over 90pc of the eggs produced by pink pigeons are infertile due to the effects of inbreeding.

Scientists already know that such low genetic diversity means less reproduction and makes the remaining birds more susceptible to infectious disease. PacBio’s sequencing technology method will enable them to pinpoint the genes that cause the species’ population decline and survival.

It would allow those with disease-resistance to be bred and released in Mauritius - as well as reintroducing beneficial genetic traits from existing pink pigeons in zoo captivity.

Dr Matthew Clark, head of technology development at EI and lead scientist on the Pink Pigeon project, said: “Saving the endangered cousin of the Dodo - a species synonymous with extinction - is an excellent opportunity to prove what can be done.”

To vote to save the pink pigeon, click here.

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