Ben J. Novak, Project Lead,
Revive & Restore
Ben J. Novak is The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback project leader responsible for project development and bringing together the right advisors and collaborators to reach the project’s goals. Ben, a North Dakota badlands native, attended Montana State University, earning a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology in 2008. Ben is a natural historian of species driven to extinction by humans specializing in the study of Passenger Pigeons. He earned his master’s degree on the ecology of the Passenger Pigeon at the University of California Santa Cruz, 2016. He is currently researching genome-editing in Domestic Rock Pigeons at the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory to begin preliminary tests for Passenger Pigeon de-extinction.
UCSC Paleogenomics Lab
Revive & Restore is partnering with the state-of-the-art University of California, Santa Cruz Paleogenomics Lab for Phase 1 in silico work on the Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback. Dr. Beth Shapiro co-directs the Paleogenomics Lab with Dr. Richard “Ed” Green. Researchers there are incorporating experimental and computational approaches to a wide range of evolutionary and ecological questions—mostly involving the application of genomic techniques—to better understand how species and populations evolve through time. Many members of the lab have contributed to developing the DNA extraction, sequencing, and data processing techniques to help produce the genomes of the passenger pigeon and band-tailed pigeon.
Dr. Beth Shapiro, whose work focuses on how populations of organisms respond to climate and habitat change over time, has isolated ancient DNA from a variety of Pleistocene and Holocene species. Her lab published the first DNA sequences of the Passenger Pigeon in 2002, and she has since become one of the premiere scientists contemplating the emerging field of de-extinction.Read More
Dr. Ed Green co-directs the UCSC Paleogenomics Laboratory with Dr. Shapiro. His specialty is in ancient human genomics, and he was involved with the team that published the first and subsequent drafts of the Neanderthal Genome. Ed’s lab has recently pioneered a new approach to de novo genome assembly for the company Dovetail Genomics, making high quality genome assemblies faster to produce and affordable for non-model organisms.
Passenger Pigeon genome research was lead by Dr. André Elias Rodrigues Soares, a computational and laboratory biologist with a history in molecular clock phylogenies. Dr. Soares earned his PhD at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and shortly after came to the UCSC Paleogenomics laboratory where he was tasked with deciphering the evolutionary and demographic history of the Passenger Pigeon.Read More
Dr. Tim Doran is a Senior Research Scientist who is currently Group Leader for Disease Mitigation Technologies in CSIRO Health & Biosecurity. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Australia. Dr. Doran has championed the development of RNAi and genome engineering technology for applications in livestock industries and is recognized as an international expert in this field. His lab has spearheaded the production of genome-edited chickens in recent years.Read More
In collaboration with Dr. Craig Smith at Monash University, Dr. Doran used RNAi technology to solve the long standing mystery of sex determination in birds and this research was published in Nature. Doran is working with Ben Novak to develop Domestic Rock Pigeons as a new model for researching genetic traits in birds with the hopes that this program can serve as the groundwork for expanding genome-editing capabilities for genetic rescue in birds.
Dr. Erez Aiden is an American research scientist active in multiple fields related to applied mathematics. He is an assistant professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, and formerly a fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and visiting faculty member at Google. Using mathematical and computational approaches, he has studied evolution in a range of contexts, including that of networks through evolutionary graph theory and languages in the field of culturomics. He has published scientific articles in a variety of disciplines.Read More
Lieberman Aiden has won awards including the Lemelson–MIT Student Prize and the American Physical Society’s Award for Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Research in Biological Physics. In 2009, Lieberman Aiden was named as one of 35 top innovators under 35 by Technology Review and in 2011 he was one of the recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.
Paul Marini is a retired poultry industry quantitative geneticist. He completed his B.S. and M.S. degrees at Southern Illionois University, Carbondale, and his PhD at the University of Arkansas, Fayettville. His career work focused on improving growth rate, feed conversion, and meat yield in chickens and turkeys. He also served as the general manager of Palmetto Pigeon Plant, Sumter, South Carolina, for three years developing breeding stock for international markets. Read More
Steven Apfelbaum is a trained plant and animal ecologist. He has studied and published on how avian and vegetation systems re-assemble after disturbances such as wildfire, wind-throw and ice storms, and after incidences of forest disease in Boreal ecosystems of North America. He has been a senior ecologist for Applied Ecological Services, Inc., since 1978 and currently serves as Chairman of the Board. Read More
Sal Alvarez owns and manages Exotic Wings International Aviary, where he breeds and cares for dozens of species of birds including Band-tailed Pigeons. Sal is one of the only breeders in the world with extensive experience working with the species. Sal is the projects very first partner, joining the project in the summer of 2012. He has supplied our project with tissue samples as well as breeding pairs of birds for our preliminary breeding studies and ecological research. Sal’s aviary will aid in breeding efforts for new Passenger Pigeons.
Holland, a registered professional land surveyor, has been a lifelong resident of Massachusetts and passenger pigeon aficionado. His cover article in Birding Magazine, June 1995, titled “The Return of the Passenger Pigeon,” proposed that the genome of an extant pigeon species be genetically engineered to match that of the extinct passenger pigeon (17 years before Revive & Restore initiated The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback!). Read More
A team of experienced pigeon breeders and racers have pledged to assist and advise our passenger pigeon restoration efforts when the time comes. This expertise of this team is essential to successfully conditioning passenger pigeons for their wild migrations.
Ken Easley, Advisor
“I have liked pigeons and doves since I was very young. They seem kind and gentle. My first was a pigeon with a broken wing I found on my way home from school.” Ken has been caring for pigeons for 45 years, since that day, and still enjoys them. He begins each day with inspection of his pigeons. Observing how quickly the youngsters grow is his favorite part of raising the birds. He has maintained a successful line of performance pigeons through careful selective breeding based on meticulous record keeping. Maintaining their health has become second nature. Ken has volunteered to coordinate and consult the “Pigeoners” when the time comes to begin flying new passenger pigeons between spring, summer, and winter aviaries.
John Bender, Pledged Collaborator
John Bender has bred and flown pigeons for over 50 years in southern Ohio, once home to many breeding colonies of passenger pigeons. John is responsible for connecting Revive & Restore with the “Pigeoners team.” He keeps Racing Homers and Birmingham Rollers. In his own words, “I was very excited to hear of the Passenger Pigeon Project. I have always known about this extinct bird. As a young man, I used to go to our public library to look at and wonder about this wild pigeon that is no longer here…I would love nothing more than to be a part of the propagation and training of these new birds.” He is the 1994 World Champion Roller Pigeon Flyer.
David Stephenson, Pledged Collaborator
David Stephenson is a freelance photojournalist and a Lecturer at the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications. When not on assignment, David races homing pigeons with the Lexington Racing Pigeon Club of which he is President. David and his family tend to a team of homing pigeons in their urban back yard in Lexington, where their birds return from racing as far away as 500 miles. His two passions meet on a daily basis when he takes photos of his birds and posts them to his website: The Pigeon Photographer. David is “thrilled to be part of the project” and to help with any aspect of breeding, training or visual documentation of future passenger pigeon restoration efforts.
Tim Kirschnerr, Pledged Collaborator
Tim Kirschnerr has bred and raced pigeons since 1993. He has won multiple races from Texas to New England, including taking the top 7 places at the Ohio Classic Race, a feat no other breeder has achieved since the race began in 1983. Tim currently lives in North Carolina, a place ideally suited for winter roosting of future passenger pigeons.