Owing to the early results of our Heath Hen genomics project (Phase 1 of Heath Hen research) Revive & Restore initiated Phase 2 of Heath Hen in spring 2016. The pursuit of Heath Hen de-extinction has officially begun!
Phase 1 progressed faster than expected. When we launched the project, the notion of Heath Hen de-extinction was an uncertainty – our goal was simply to explore whether or not the Heath Hen might be an interesting candidate for de-extinction. The distinctiveness of the species, no longer a subspecies by our data, prompted Revive & Restore to move forward the next phase of the project.
The goal has now become de-extinction. At Grouse Park (pictured below), Dan Snyder has breed a flock of greater prairie chickens, which have begun laying the eggs that will provide some of the raw material with which the Heath Hen will be built. Because the Heath Hen DNA harvested from museum specimens in Chicago, Philadelphia and Toronto is fragmented, the greater prairie chicken genome will act as a scaffold to fill in missing links. The ultimate end goal is a host species that is a chimera: part prairie chicken with key heath hen genes.
Creating a heath hen from these raw materials will be accomplished by manipulating a close heath hen relative (the Greater Prairie Chicken) to carry Heath Hen genes. But for now the immediate task lies with the scientists at Crystal Bioscience, and their first step is to establish viable Greater Prairie Chicken primordial germ cell cultures. Of the 72 eggs sent from Grouse Park to the labs of Crystal Bioscience, about 50 percent have produced embryos for harvesting germs cells (pictured above). By late June of 2016, the cultures were promising, but diagnostics are underway for further verification.