New genetic information library to support conservation

  • Australia is one of the most biologically unique and diverse countries in the world
  • 1774 species (480 animals; 1294 plants) are listed as threatened
  • The Threatened Species Initiative launches today, a project using genetics to better inform decisions about conserving Australia’s threatened species
  • This project brings together genome biologists, population biologists, bioinformaticians, population geneticists and zoologists with conservation agencies

Launched today, the Threatened Species Initiative funded by BioplatformsAustralia, will create a national library of genomic data to support decision-making for biodiversity conservation.

The science lead on the project, Dr Carolyn Hogg, from the School of Life andEnvironmental Sciences, said genetic diversity is key to adaptation. “Byhaving a library of our threatened species’ genetic diversity, we will be ableto react quickly in times of crisis knowing where the critical populationsare,” Dr Hogg said. “We need to stop being reactive. And start beingproactive. Investing in our wildlife’s future to create a conservationlegacy.”

Saving the orange-bellied parrot

“One of the species we will be looking at first is the orange-bellied parrot,Australia’s most critically endangered bird,” Dr Hogg said. “Every year birdsare released from the captive population into the wild to try and boost wildpopulation numbers. We know they have low genetic diversity at some immunegenes and suffer from different diseases. Yet without a genome we have no ideahow low their diversity at important gene regions actually is. A genome willprovide us with a roadmap for understanding the orange-bellied parrot’sbiology and how we can make decisions about releases that can improve theparrot’s adaptive potential into the future.”

Dr Hogg said reference genomes for up to 50 threatened Australian species willbe generated and made publicly available to the scientific community throughAmazon Web Services Open Data Sets Program, as well as a reduced set ofgenetic data for individuals of each species

“The conservation community will be able to leverage this genomic data totackle critical biological and conservation issues,” said Dr Hogg, who isSenior Research Manager of the Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group at theUniversity of Sydney. “By bringing together different disciplines, and workingto our strengths, we can build this library. Recording what we have now andbeing able to rapidly respond to the next catastrophe.”

Working with Bioplatforms

Bioplatforms Australia General Manager Andrew Gilbert said: “This initiativehas an immediate practical aspect. It will support the development of agenomics resource for Australian threatened species that is directly tuned toempower conservation managers and inform their work.”

Bioplatforms Australia is a not-for-profit organisation that manages FederalGovernment investment through the National Collaborative ResearchInfrastructure Strategy in the domains of genomics, proteomics, metabolomicsand bioinformatics.

Research results will be fast-tracked into management outcomes. A website andtraining materials developed through education partners in the conservationsector will provide skills training to industry stakeholders enabling them tointegrate genetic data to assist in their population management decisions.

This project brings together genome biologists, population biologists,bioinformaticians, population geneticists and zoologists with conservationagencies.

“We will be pioneering the use of genomic information to support threatenedspecies recovery management for those at risk from threatening processes,” MrGilbert said. “This project will be an exemplar of how academia, governmentand industry can work together in the conservation arena and will build scaleand focus in collaborative adaptive conservation management.”

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