New bird genomes give insight into evolution of genomic diversity

November 12, 2020

The Bird 10,000 Genome Project (B10K) is a large international project co-led by University of Copenhagen, China National Genebank at BGI-Shenzhen, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Rockefeller University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In a study published today in Nature, the B10K achieved its family phase milestone releasing genomic resources for 363 bird species including 267 new genomes, and illustrating how these resources give improved resolution on genomic evolution analyses.

The paper also established a new pipeline to analyze the unprecedented scale of genomic data, which revealed a detailed landscape of genomic sequence gains and losses across bird lineages. The study showed that the passerine birds, the largest extant order of bird species, possessed genomic features that differed from other bird groups. Passerine genomes also contain an additional copy of the growth hormone gene. The songbirds, a group of Passeriformes, have lost a gene called cornulin, which might have contributed to the evolution of their diverse pure-tone vocalizations. Dense genomic sampling also facilitated the detection of signals of natural selection down to the single-base level, which may not be possible with few genomes.

- "Such detection power was only possible when the species were densely represented in the comparative genomic analyses," said Guojie Zhang, a principal investigator on the B10K and head of the Villum Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen. "These genomes allow us to explore the genomic variations among different bird groups and help to understand their diversification processes".

The large collaborative effort involved over 150 researchers from 125 institutions in 24 countries. To sequence the bird genomes, the project heavily relies on tissue samples stored in museums around the globe. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum of Denmark, and the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science contributed the majority of the samples for the project. This allowed them to sequence genomes from rare and endangered birds, which will be important resources for conservation actions.

Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen

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