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Transgenic Birds

Songbirds, and zebra finch in particular, are our best animal models for studying vocal learning. Yet, tools for genetic and molecular manipulation in birds are currently very limited. Additionally an estimated 1,200 bird species are threatened with extinction and over 190 species have gone extinct since the year 1500 (IUCN Red List, May 2021; BirdLife International). Some of the same techniques used to develop transgenic birds can be applied to the conservation of endangered bird species, as well as de-extinction of lost species. In collaboration with Revive and Restore, we are currently modifying techniques successfully utilized in chicken to isolate, culture and genetically transform zebra finch primordial germ cells (PGCs). Avian germ cells circulate in the vasculature prior to their deposition in the growing gonads. Once genetically manipulated, cultured PGCs are injected into host embryos, which can then be raised to maturity to generate transgenic lines. Because zebra finches belong to Neoaves, representing over 95% of the over 10,500 bird species, and chickens belong to a more distant ancestral lineage, the methods developed in zebra finch are expected to be applicable to more bird species.

  • Develop optimized methods to genetically modify zebra finches in order to better understand vocal learning. 

  • Develop culture conditions to indefinitely grow germ cells of all bird species. 

  • Support conservation and de-extinction efforts of bird species through toolkit development.

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