Reviving the extinct moa

The moa has been extinct for approximately 600 years. Unlike other extinct species intact DNA samples are available. This means thanks to modern science there is a realistic chance of bringing this species back from extinction but we need your help.

The moa were nine species (in six genera) of flightless birds endemic to New Zealand. The two largest species, Dinornis robustus and Dinornis novaezelandiae, reached about 3.6 m (12 ft) in height with neck outstretched, and weighed about 230 kg (510 lb). Interested in learning more about the moa? We highly recommend Moa, the life and death of New Zealand's legendary bird by Quinn Berentson.
Avian de-extinction projects have three parts:
  • 1. Sequence the genome of the extinct bird. IN PROGRESS
  • 2. Culture primordial germ cells from a closely related bird.
  • 3. Introgressing the genome of the extinct species into primordial germ cells from the closest relative.

Genome sequencing

The first step towards moa de-extinction is to create a comprehensive moa genome. This genome is the "blueprint" of the species and is required for the subsequent genome editing that takes place in step 3. This sequencing project is challenging because unlike living species the DNA available for sequencing extinct species is degraded. However many extinct species have had their genomes sequenced and it is only a matter of time before one or more research groups succeeds in creating a moa genome.

The Genetic Rescue Foundation is actively working on the construction of a moa genome. Learn more about our progress.

Culturing primordial germ cells

Pioneering biologist Dr. Robert Etches and his team at Crystal Bioscience have shown that primordial germ cells from one species of bird will colonize the germ line of a different species of bird. Their published work has focussed on chickens and guinea fowl. However they have also shown that PGCs cultured from houbara bustards (members of the gruiforme order) will colonize the gonad of chickens (order galliformes). Because birds lay eggs that are fertilized a day or so before they are laid and before they are invested with albumen, cloning in the sense used for mammals is impractical. The proof of concept experiments showing that the germ line of one species can be inserted through the germ line of a different species. Therefore in theory the germ line of the moa can be inserted through the germ line of the tinamou or other living relative of the moa.

Genome introgression

Introgressing the genome of the extinct species into primordial germ cells from the closest relative. This is the most difficult and under developed part of the project. Assuming we have a complete sequence of the moa and the tinamou, we would need to know which moa sequences to insert and which to leave as tinamou. At this point, the essential differences between species are unknown. This is an exaggerated version of the quest to understand the differences between breeds within a species (e.g. a Pekinese and a Great Dane) at the sequence level. Currently we can target individual genes in the avian genome but targeting hundreds or thousands of genes would be beyond the capabilities of current technology. However it's likely that de-extinction experiments will eventually overcome this problem.

Relevant papers

Have a relevant paper you'd like to recommend? Please contact us.