The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback has set ambitious goals to hatch the first generation of new Passenger Pigeons before 2025 and begin trial wild releases in the following 15 years. Below is our interactive roadmap revealing our timelines of past work and future work necessary to achieve these goals including our current status of each project phase.
With the help of several partners, a series of significant milestones have been achieved for the Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback, Revive & Restore’s longest running project. Passenger Pigeon de-extinction has fueled global dialogue on developing de-extinction as a conservation tool; our program has been used as a case study by independent researchers in many publications. The partnerships and insights gained through our flagship project’s progress has set the stage for rapid developments for Heath Hen de-extinction and discussions for building other avian projects.
October 2018 Project Update
Work on Phase 2 has officially begun, and project lead Ben Novak has begun breeding his flock of Cas9 germline chimeras – birds capable of making genome engineering in pigeons more efficient. This research will pave the way for the genetic rescue of all wild birds. Keep reading for a full update on the growing flock and for recent coverage in the Wall Street Journal.
Wall Street Journal
“The last known passenger pigeon—a bird named Martha—died in captivity at a Cincinnati zoo in 1914. Her demise sparked the passing of modern conservation laws to protect other endangered species in the U.S.” Now, more than 100 years later, the Passenger Pigeon is again advancing conservation.
Although the de-extinction of the Passenger Pigeon will likely take decades, de-extinction research is already generating foundational science that could transform bird conservation. Furthermore, Passenger Pigeon de-extinction offers a new opportunity to achieve long-term conservation goals for woodland forests in the eastern United States.
In fall 2017, project lead Ben Novak began the first experiments to genetically engineer pigeons, using domestic rock pigeons as a model to begin testing the feasibility of editing genomes of living birds for the extinct Passenger Pigeon’s traits. Over the past year, Novak has breed a flock of rock pigeons that are capable of making genome engineering in pigeons far more efficient.
“The pigeons are outwardly unremarkable. Thirteen birds, ages two weeks to three months, occupy a coop at an animal research facility west of Melbourne, Australia. They’re descendants of the common rock pigeon, recognizable denizens of city squares and park benches—with one small but crucial distinction,” writes the Journal. “These are the first pigeons in history with reproductive systems that contain the Cas9 gene, an essential component of the Crispr gene-editing tool. The squabs of this flock will be born with the Cas9 gene in every one of their cells, allowing scientists to edit their offspring with DNA from the extinct passenger pigeon. Those birds, if everything goes to plan, will be the first live animals edited with traits from a species that no longer exists.”
Phase 1 – Since 2012, through our collaborative partnership with the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab, we have:
- Sequenced DNA from 37 Passenger Pigeons, including 2 whole genomes;
- Sequenced, assembled, and publicly released a high quality reference genome for the Band-tailed Pigeon;
- Made valuable scientific discoveries of the species’ evolution and population genomics.
Not only have we discovered that the Passenger Pigeon was a well adapted, resilient, and ancient bird, we have identified some of the first genes that may help revive the species.
In 2017, we welcome aboard a new project partner to sequence and research more genomes for Passenger Pigeon de-extinction, the Center for Genome Architecture at Rice University’s Baylor College of Medicine.
Phase 2 – In fall 2017, project lead Ben Novak began the first experiments to genetically engineer pigeons, using Domestic Rock Pigeons as a model to begin testing the feasibility of editing genomes of living birds for the extinct Passenger Pigeon’s traits.
Our next Phase 2 goal is to raise money to begin developing germ-line transmission, the most efficient reproductive technique for creating genome-edited birds, for pigeons. With adequate support, our project partner Crystal Bioscience, a world leader in avian biotechnologies, may begin initial experiments with Domestic Rock Pigeons. Success with Rock Pigeons will lay the foundation needed to work with Band-tailed Pigeons.
Phase 3 – Novak’s master’s thesis analyzed the ecological niche of the Passenger Pigeon. His research, completed in summer 2016, determined that the Passenger Pigeon was the ecosystem engineer of eastern North American forests. New ecological studies important for Passenger Pigeon restoration are underway.
Our Partners at the Bronx Zoo recently completed research of Band-tailed Pigeon captive breeding, examining optimal care conditions and studying the development of chicks to adulthood. This is invaluable data for Passenger Pigeon captive breeding work.
In July 2017, project collaborator Holland Shaw began raising Revive & Restore’s small Band-tailed Pigeon flock at his home in Massachusetts, the first step in growing our flock to raise future revived Passenger Pigeons.
For more detail of the milestones accomplished to date and our future steps for Passenger Pigeon de-extinction, scroll over the icons on the project roadmap below showing the timelines of different research elements of the programs three phases.