The Genetic Rescue Foundation Blog

Strike Two

Moa in the Forest

For those of you following our efforts to sequence the moa genome my apologies for the delay in publishing this update. It took a bit of time for our latest batch of samples to find their way to the UCSC Paleogenomics Lab.


Dr. Beth Shapiro

Just completed the analysis of the last four samples. These are better preserved than the previous samples, but still pretty poor. The best two samples are only around 1.5% endogenous DNA (so 98.5% environmental DNA), which would make it a very expensive genome sequencing project. My recommendation would be to keep looking for a well preserved bone.

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So unfortunately our second batch of samples have yielded only slightly better results than the first. I’ve discussed the sequencing efforts with many of the world’s ancient DNA and moa experts. They all agree that finding a well preserved sample is essential and that there’s not much you can do to guarantee your selected sample is high quality.

Plan C

So what are the next steps?


At the moment our next plan is to undertake an excavation. There are many promising sites that have not yet been explored including anaerobic swamp locations that hold great promise for preservation.

We’re still determining the target location for the excavation. Once a site has been selected we will invite anyone who has contributed to the moa genome sequencing campaign to join us as we attempt to excavate a “fresh” specimen. Many of the preservation problems appear to be related to decay post excavation. In other words once the specimens are out of ground they decompose more quickly. We’re hoping that if we can excavate and cryopreserve rapidly then we will succeed in sourcing a sample of sufficient quality to sequence in detail.

Thank you to everyone who has supported the campaign so far. I wish I could have better news to share with you. However an excavation is an exciting proposition that presents a great opportunity to involve the community who have supported this work to-date.

Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.

Genetically Modified Mosquito May Become Weapon Against Zika Virus

Genetically modified mosquitoes that would help fight the Zika virus are getting urgent attention from U.S. regulators as global health officials raise alarms about the pathogen’s spread.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is in the final stages of reviewing an application from Intrexon Corp.’s Oxitec unit to conduct a field trial in the Florida Keys, Oxitec Chief Executive Officer Hadyn Parry said in a phone interview. Parry wasn’t able to provide further details on the timing of an FDA decision.

Oxitec genetically modifies the males in a breed of mosquito known as Aedes aegypti — responsible for transmitting Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and Yellow Fever — so that their offspring die young. The Zika virus has been spreading “explosively” in South and Central America, the World Health Organization said Thursday. Developing a vaccine could take years, drugmakers and health experts have cautioned.

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Meet the Time-Traveling Scientist Behind Editas, the Biotech Company Going Public With Google’s Help

On March 15, 2013, genetic engineer George Church stood in the middle of a circular red rug onstage at the Gilbert H. Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, D.C., describing a detailed plan for bringing a six-ton, 10-foot, fur-covered creature back from the dead.

By splicing genes responsible for traits like thicker hair, subcutaneous fat and curving tusks into the DNA of an Asian elephant, Church hopes to revive the long-extinct woolly mammoth, or at least create a version of the modern elephant that really likes the cold.

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The Heroes of CRISPR

It’s hard to recall a revolution that has swept biology more swiftly than CRISPR. Just 3 years ago, scientists reported that the CRISPR system—an adaptive immune system used by microbes to defend themselves against invading viruses by recording and targeting their DNA sequences—could be repurposed into a simple and reliable technique for editing, in living cells, the genomes of mammals and other organisms. CRISPR was soon adapted for a vast range of applications—creating complex animal models of human-inherited diseases and cancers; performing genome-wide screens in human cells to pinpoint the genes underlying biological processes; turning specific genes on or off; and genetically modifying plants—and is being used in thousands of labs worldwide. The prospect that CRISPR might be used to modify the human germline has stimulated international debate.

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A Mummified Moa Helps Paleontologists Reconstruct Feeding Behavior

Let’s say you had a mummy of a giant extinct bird—what would you do with it? Marie Attard and co-authors had a brilliant idea. They stuck it in an MRI scanner to get a detailed look at its jaw muscles and reconstruct the way it ate, even though moas have been extinct for 550 years.

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The Anthropocene: Hard evidence for a human-driven Earth

The evidence for a new geological epoch which marks the impact of human activity on the Earth is now overwhelming according to a recent paper by an international group of geoscientists. The Anthropocene, which is argued to start in the mid-20th Century, is marked by the spread of materials such as aluminium, concrete, plastic, fly ash and fallout from nuclear testing across the planet, coincident with elevated greenhouse gas emissions and unprecedented trans-global species invasions.

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It’s practically impossible to define “GMOs”

Debates rage over what to do about genetically modified organisms, but we rarely stop to ask a more basic question: Do GMOs really exist? It’s an important question, because no one in this debate can tell you precisely what a GMO is. It’s a metaphor we use to talk about a set of ideas. It doesn’t map neatly onto any clear category in the physical world.

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