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Perry Hall

De-Extinction and the Microbiome

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by Ben Novak Current research on microbiomes reveals that an organism’s microbiota are co-evolved with the host species, but not to a point of specificity that is problematic between related organisms (such as one kind of pigeon in relation to another). While genetic and epigenetic factors play between the host organism and the microbiota — determining which microbes successfully colonize the gut and other organs — the ultimate dictating force of the composition of an organism’s microbiome is diet and environment. For de-extinction purposes, the microbiome of the living species used to engineer the extinct species is the microbiome that…

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DNA Sequencing starts on “Passenger Pigeon 1871”

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by Ben Novak On October 8th, 2013, Ryan Phelan, Stewart Brand, and I were graciously allowed to view a historic moment at Genentech Hall of the University of California San Francisco‘s Mission Bay campus. We were in the sequencing facility courtesy of Eric Chow, Jo Derisi, and Jessica Lund, who manage the sequencing facility and conduct fascinating research in the lab. Our passenger pigeon DNA is in their hands now, as our genome candidate “Passenger Pigeon 1871” (aka ROM 34.3.23.2, aka BN1-1), begins extensive DNA sequencing. The “1871” is for the year that the specimen was shot and then preserved….

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One Specimen’s Journey to the Genome

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by Ben Novak In 1871 along the east shore of the Don River, a Canadian named William S. W. Grainger witnessed a flock of North America’s most common birds: passenger pigeons. As Grainger harvested a decent female pigeon from the flock that day he probably didn’t think the species could ever go extinct. The passenger pigeon numbered in the billions from the time he was a child all the way until this hunting expedition in the woods, that would later become the greater metropolitan area of Toronto. The people of Toronto had often seen flocks that seemed endless along the shores…

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New Research for Old Birds

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by Ben Novak The extinction of the passenger pigeon has challenged our conceptions of nature for a century. The bird that was “too numerous to go extinct” disappeared in a decade, leaving only skins and mounts in museum collections and a few in private hands. If the most abundant bird in the world could collapse at the hands of mankind, then perhaps any species was vulnerable to our onslaught. The loss of this astounding and albeit “larger than life” piece of American wilderness impressed upon citizens of the early 20th century to conserve our wild places and the creatures within…

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