Cracked eggs reveal secret life

Jan 04, 2012 By Aaron Fernandes
Once you have a data base of genetic information, you can see who is related to who… it’s a way of exploring the private lives of these birds.— Dr Haile. Credit: Flickr: James Marvin Phelps

Australian researchers have found a breakthrough technique that uses eggshells from endangered and extinct birds as a molecular resource—revealing insights into the behaviour and evolutionary history of Australian feathered fauna.

Murdoch University’s Dr. James Haile says eggshell has been largely overlooked as a substrate despite its impermeability and resistance to decay, owing largely to the calcium carbonate matrix which acts to protect biomolecules.

Dr. Haile says researchers take the eggs of extinct and and grind them down before sequencing the DNA to learn new information about these birds.

“For such as Madagascar’s elephant bird, we extract the DNA and compare that to living birds such as emu, cassowary, ostrich and others—from that we can see how those birds fit into the broader family tree and at what point they diverged,” Dr. Haile says.

“For the endangered birds, we take samples of abandoned eggshells and together with DNA samples from chicks and captive birds, develop a population database to get a picture of genetic diversity of the population.”

Dr. Haile says the application of his research can help to identify smuggled eggs coming into Australia and learn more about the behavior of Australia’s endangered birds for conservation strategies.

He says it could even help determine the precise timing of the fragmentation of the supercontinent Gondwana.

“For the endangered birds such as Australian megapodes and cockatoos, once you have a data base of genetic information, you can see who is related to who, what is the dispersal of their chicks? How many times a female has mated and if her partner dies will she find another?” Dr. Haile says.

“It’s a way of exploring the private lives of these birds.”

“For the extinct birds, we know elephant birds were related to emus, cassowaries and others, but we aren’t sure how closely they were related because bones don’t preserve DNA very well due to the heat as well as being very rare.

“Elephant bird eggs are the largest ever known, bigger than any dinosaur egg, and very resistant to decay so they’re an ideal but under research source of DNA.”

Dr. Haile says future research will improve enrichment techniques to concentrate endogenous DNA from contaminant DNA and will then use that in conjunction with second generation sequencing technologies, which produces up to a million DNA sequences from one sample.

Explore further: Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

Provided by ScienceNetwork Western Australia

4.8 /5 (4 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

DNA confirms existence of NZ bird thought extinct

Sep 26, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- An examination of ancient and modern DNA by the University of Otago has confirmed that the New Zealand storm-petrel, once thought to be extinct, is a bird which continues to fly our southern ...

Scientists tease DNA from eggshell of extinct birds

Mar 09, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a world first, scientists in Australia announced on Wednesday they had extracted DNA from the fossilised eggshells of extinct birds, including iconic giants such as the moa and elephant ...

Birds of a feather may not always flock together

Nov 12, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- DNA mutation rates are the deciding factor in the battle of the birds, which sees songbird species disproportionately outnumbering other bird orders, according to research from The Australian ...

Cockatoos' family history revealed through DNA

Apr 06, 2011

Murdoch University researchers have used new DNA sequencing techniques to help give them a better understanding of how cockatoo species have evolved and how they fit together in a family tree.

Findings show ancient birds died in flash flood

Nov 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- During a presentation at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's 71st annual Meeting in Las Vegas, researchers Gareth Dyke and Darren Naish from the University of Southampton presented their findings of ...

Recommended for you

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

Nov 21, 2014

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

Mysterious glowworm found in Peruvian rainforest

Nov 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer has discovered what appears to be a new type of bioluminescent larvae. He told members of the press recently that he was walking near a camp in the Peruvian ...

The unknown crocodiles

Nov 21, 2014

Just a few years ago, crocodilians – crocodiles, alligators and their less-known relatives – were mostly thought of as slow, lazy, and outright stupid animals. You may have thought something like that ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.