Washington: In a ground-breaking move, researchers, for the first time, have successfully sequenced the complete genome of a scarlet macaw, providing new insight into avian evolution, biology and conservation.
The bird selected for the sequencing was a female named "Neblina" who lives in the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa.
Neblina is believed to be from Brazil. She was confiscated during a raid on illegally imported exotic birds by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1995.
A blood sample was taken from Neblina, DNA was extracted for sequencing and after a series of steps, and the sequence of the genome was assembled.
"The final analysis showed that there are about one billion DNA bases in the genome, which is about one-third of that found in mammals," said Ian Tizard at the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M.
The final completed genome demonstrates some similarities to that of the chicken. "But there are significant differences at both the genome and biological level," Tizard added.
"We now have the ability to initiate large-scale, genome-wide approaches for population and phylogeography studies," said Dr Christopher Seabury, collaborator of Donald Brightsmith, director of the Tambopata Macaw Research Project in Peru.
Macaws are found in tropical Central and South America, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. Trapping of the birds for the pet trade, plus loss of habitat due to deforestation in their native lands, has severely decreased their numbers since the 1960s.
There are 23 species of macaws, and some of these have already become extinct while others are endangered. Macaws can live 50 to 75 years and often outlive their owners.
"They are considered to be among the most intelligent of all birds and also one of the most affectionate - it is believed they are sensitive to human emotions," said Tizard.
"Possessing stunning feathers that are brightly coloured, some macaws have a wingspan approaching four feet. They also usually mate for life and can fly as fast as 56 km per hour," Tizard said.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.