March 10, 2014 12:21 pm

ROM to help revive extinct passenger pigeon

Extinct Passenger Pigeon.

Extinct Passenger Pigeon.

Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images

TORONTO – The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is opening up its vault to potentially play an integral role in bringing back the extinct passenger pigeon.

A U.S. non-profit group called Revive & Restore has taken up the cause of using museum-specimen DNA and modern laboratory techniques to revive a species that went extinct in 1914.

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“The goal of The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback is to bring the passenger pigeon all the way back using the genome of the band-tailed pigeon and state-of-the-art genomic technology,” said the group on its website.

The ROM has in possession one of those highly coveted pigeons which it acquired when the museum first opened in 1914, just five and half months after the last of its kind passed away at the Cincinnati Zoo.

“They died off without producing successful offspring over the next few years, until a female living at the Cincinnati Ohio Zoo, named Martha was the last of the species. On September 1, 1914 Martha died. The passenger pigeon became extinct,” the website said.

The group has already begun the process of cataloguing samples from 34 passenger pigeon specimens last year and have successfully isolated one candidate with the “best quality and highest quantity of DNA.”

The work is being led in the lab by Ben Novak of Revive & Restore and Dr. Beth Shapiro of University of California, Santa Cruz Paleogenomics Lab.

“It is a species that is not only feasible to successfully bring back, but also presents enough challenges to push the science forward and open up the possibility of de-extinction to many more species.”

Meanwhile, the ROM plans to put on display a passenger pigeon exhibit on the anniversary of Martha’s death in September.

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