The Agapornis genome project is large research project that aims to improve lovebird breeding for all lovebird breeders worldwide. The project will run in different phases and each phase will take a couple of years.
The first phase is to get the genetic code of the lovebird. To do this we need to determine the sequence of nucleotides in the Agapornis genome. (Please refer to “More on Genetics” for more information on the specific terms). During this phase we will work only on the Agapornis roseicollis genome. We have selected one young male bird who will act as the reference sample for all Agapornis roseicollis birds in the future. We drew blood from this young as well as both its parents. Through different processes we determined what the DNA sequence (or genetic code) of the genome is. This phase will not aid breeders directly, but rather lay the foundations for the future developments. We aim to complete phase one at the end of 2016.
The second phase will be to develop a parentage verification panel that will be commercially available to all breeders worldwide. This will allow breeders to test a young bird to confirm which birds are the parents (mother and father) of the young. This can be done right after birth so even before the bird is sold to a new owner. This is done by identifying specific markers (SNPs) dispersed throughout the genome. There are millions of SNPs and during this phase we will select the best combination of markers that will allow for the highest exclusion probability (thus most accurate prediction of which bird is the parent) but the least number of markers. By doing this, the price of the test will be kept as low as possible but still accurate. Hopefully by the end of 2017 to mid-2018 this test will be commercially available.
The third phase will consist of identifying genes and mutations of economical importance. The first gene we will investigate is the myostatin gene. One phenomenon that breeders have noticed is that some birds are larger than others. There is a strong link between the size of a bird or animal and a mutation in the myostatin gene. The gene and causative mutation were identified in different in many different animals like cattle, dogs, chicken and even in mussels. We will use the genome of the chicken to identify the gene in the lovebird genome and then identify the mutation causing the size difference in different birds. This test should be available commercially at the end of 2018.
Two other topics that we would like to investigate later on but will not be part of Henriëtte's PhD, is identification of plumage color genes and mutation and also markers to verify if a bird is a hybrid or not. This will allow breeders to test a young bird to verify if it is a split for a specific color mutation even before it is sold. These are just some of the topics we would like to investigate further in a future studies if funding becomes available.