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Cahow Project Update – end of Q1 2023


Our vision is to enhance the Caribbean way of life through genomics to empower precision medicine and conserve our picturesque environment. We have chosen to start expanding genomic capacity in Bermuda first, with the launch of our first conservation genomics project on the national bird, the Bermuda cahow. 

A thriving species with over one million strong, they were believed to be extinct by the 1620s. However 36 birds were found 330 years later in Castle Harbour, making it one of approximately 350 “Lazarus species” in the world. 

Dr David Wingate, a world renowned Bermudian scientist, dedicated his life’s work to restore their population. With his invaluable consultation, the cahow project was birthed in 2020.

Genomics provides effective tools to characterize biodiversity, with publicly available reference genomes greatly assisting biodiversity assessment, conservation, and restoration efforts by providing evidence for scientifically informed management decisions. Phase 1 of this project aims to create a high-quality reference genome to better understand cahow health, determine genetic diversity, and track the findings over successive generations. 

We are proud to report that we have successfully obtained cahow blood samples and have chosen the bird for the reference genome analysis. High quality DNA was extracted at our Biodiversity Research Laboratory at the Bermuda College which allows for the whole genome sequencing to commence.

This work is in collaboration with Professor Miten Jain of Northeastern University, Jeremy Madeiros of Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Letizia Campioni of Bermuda Petrel Biomonitoring Project and Jean-Pierre Rouja of Nonsuch Expeditions.

Our Laboratory Manager, Tahdae Tucker, has travelled to Professor Jain’s lab where an Oxford Nanopore Technologies Field Specialist will also join for technical support. The work will lead to the data analysis step where an assembly of the draft genome will be made.

This project is supported by Oxford Nanopore Technologies and the Department of Environment and National Resources and is co-funded by the Bermuda Zoological Society and American Conservation Partnership.

Author: Carla Zuill (Public Relations Officer)