University researchers in Texas have successfully sequenced the complete genome of a Scarlet macaw. The bird, Ara macao, is one of the animal wonders of Costa Rica.
Some birds have wing spans up to four feet and are flashes of red in the wilds as they approach speeds of 35 mph.
Researchers at Texas A&M have been studying the macaw for years, and that is where the genome was sequenced. The university called is a groundbreaking move that provides new insight into avian evolution, biology and conservation.
The birds have declined in numbers, in part because of the pet trade. But they are considered less than threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which keeps track of animals via its well-known red list. The bird is found naturally in many Latin countries.
The university said the genetic work was led by Christopher Seabury and Ian Tizard at the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. The researchers drew blood form a bird at a Des ~Moines, Iowa, zoo and published their work in the current issue of the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE, said the university.
The university reported that sequencing showed that the macaw has one billion DNA bases in the genome, which is about one-third of that found in mammals. Said the university:
“The final completed genome demonstrates some similarities to that of the chicken. ‘But there are significant differences at both the genome and biological level,’ according to Tizard. For example,’Macaws can fly great distances, while chickens can’t. In addition, brain development and volume are very different in macaws, which is unsurprising since they are very intelligent birds compared to chickens. Likewise, macaws can live many years, while chickens usually do not, and therefore, our macaw genome sequence may help shed light on the genetic factors that influence longevity and intelligence.'”
Macaws also are said to be very affectionate and sensitive to human emotions.
Central Valley residents are closer than they may think to a number of macaws. The Ara Project is a continuation of 30 years of work by Margot and Richard Frisius. It is a licensed zoological park in Rio Segundo of Alajuela for macaws confiscated by the government or abandoned by owners.
Through the implementation of a breeding program in 1992 and the creation of a non-profit organization, Amigos de las Aves, the Frisius efforts grew the site into the largest collection of great green macaws in captivity in the world, said the organization’s Web site.
The conservation program also received notice for a successful scarlet macaw reintroduction program.
The project workers are trying to relocate the birds to land donated in Punta Islita in the Nicoya peninsula because the owners of the land who bought the property after the deaths of the founders want to use it in another way. A friend of the project said in an email Thursday that the new owners have reduced the size of the property available for macaws but that they have stopped short of eviction.
A recent news story about the Ara Project isHERE!