Friday, 1 April 2016


Once considered lost with just a few male members observed who’d not yet been informed that their species had gone extinct, the kakapo (though with many challenges still ahead) are slowly making a recovery, the population having been sequestered on a remote island off the coast of New Zealand. The turkey-sized flightless and fearless parrots, having evolved over the millennia with no natural predators suffered terribly with the arrival of Europeans, who brought with them hitchhiking pests like cats and rats, that hunted the birds to the brink of extinction, like many other charismatic creatures.
The rescue scheme of the New Zealanders, involving the eradication of invasive species on otherwise inaccessible islands and transplanting threatened populations there to recover, has been a successful one for this and other feathered friends, but what’s really remarkable in the case of the kakapos is that a consortium of researchers have taken advantage of this success-story, with the total number of individuals having grown to a meagre but manageable one hundred and twenty-five, to sequence the DNA of an entire species, and not just some select exemplars. Of course, this sampling is not characteristic of a normally viable and genetically diverse population, but the significance and what knowing all the subtle differences in health, vitality, mutations and foibles that make each of the subjects (and us as well) unique is something heretofore unexplored—and suggests potential for further understanding about the mechanics of evolution and perhaps gives the conservators the chance to play match-maker.