While most Catalyst Science Fund projects are focused on studying a single species, the purpose of each is to catalyze development of genetic rescue biotechnologies that can be applied across many genetic rescue applications and for multiple species. The newest projects will run until June 2022 and support the development of an Advanced Coral Toolkit as well as Marine Banking & Sequencing, both of which were first proposed in our Ocean Genomics Horizon Scan.
Marine Banking & Sequencing
A Greater Prairie Chicken, like this one, is the closest living relative to the Heath Hen.
Developing Primordial Germ Cell Techniques for Germline Transfer
Led By: Dr. Rosemary Walzem, Texas A&M University
Status: Active (July 2019–June 2021)
Focus: De-extinction (Avian Genetic Rescue)
Goal: Identify key points in Primordial Germ Cell (PGC) biology to govern the success of PGC culture and transfer between wild and domestic bird species.
Why Now: A critical step in avian genetic rescue will be the ability to isolate, culture, and expand avian PGCs (the cells that give rise to spermatozoa and oocyte cells) in vitro—a step that has not yet been accomplished for wild bird species. Learn more about the genetic rescue of the heath hen and the passenger pigeon.
Catalytic Science: Fundamentally, reproductive technologies available for genetic rescue in mammals do not work for birds. Egg-based reproduction presents a unique set of technical challenges. The success of this project will help enable genetic rescue projects for many avian species. In October, a flock of young greater prairie chickens from our breeder, Dan Snyder, arrived in Texas. New experiments to culture PGCs will begin when these birds lay eggs in 2020. Findings will be applied to support our heath hen de-extinction efforts and genetic rescue of its living relatives, including the critically endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken.
Young elephants are especially susceptible to EEHV1A.
Assembling the EEHV1A Genome to Save the Endangered Asian Elephant from Disease
Status: Active (July 2019–December 2020)
Focus: Facilitated adaptation
Goal: Create a cell culture system for Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus 1A (EEHV1A) using a synthesized viral genome.
Why Now: Captive breeding efforts of the endangered Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) are currently hindered by the elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV), a widespread and highly fatal hemorrhagic disease that results in a 25% mortality rate for captive-born Asian elephant calves. Developing new strategies to fight this disease is essential for Asian elephant conservation. Unfortunately, all previous attempts to propagate the virus in cell culture models have failed. Without the ability to culture the virus in the laboratory, it is difficult to identify its’ mechanism of action, understand its host-virus interactions, develop vaccines, or screen new antiviral drugs.
Catalytic Science: The Church lab has proposed taking two parallel approaches to assembling the complete EEHV1A genome from synthetic DNA fragments and transfecting it into Asian elephant endothelial cells to create a cell culture platform. Once this has been achieved, they plan to use electron microscopy to test whether viral particles are being made. Learn more about work from the Church Lab.