With many close living relatives the New Zealand Quail Coturnix novaezelandiae is a promising de-extinction candidate.
Matiu project manages construction projects by day but is also a trained molecular biologist. He's passionate about advancing the science of de-extinction and believes the New Zealand Quail is a pragmatic target species.
In order to understand the genetic differences between the New Zealand Quail and its other close living relatives we must create a comprehensive genome. Sequencing the genomes of extinct species is significantly more challenging than living species due to the difficulty in obtaining DNA samples that are not heavily degraded or contaminated.
Of all the extinct species upon which a genome sequencing attempt could be made the New Zealand Quail is promising. It's recently extinct with an abundance of well preserved museum specimens to obtain samples from. It also has close living relatives meaning that high quality reference genomes are available to assist with genome assembly.
The New Zealand Quail (Coturnix novaezelandiae), or koreke (the Māori name), has been extinct since 1875. The male and female were similar, except the female was lighter. The first scientist to describe it was Sir Joseph Banks when he visited New Zealand on James Cook's first voyage. Terrestrial and temperate, this species inhabited lowland tussock grassland and open fernlands. The first specimen to be obtained by a European was collected in 1827 by Jean René Constant Quoy and Joseph Paul Gaimard on Dumont D'Urville's voyage.
Research was conducted between 2007 and 2009 into whether the quails on Tiritiri Matangi Island – which was spared the worst impact of introduced predators – might be a surviving population of this species, or koreke-brown quail (Coturnix ypsilophora) hybrids. However, a genetic study showed instead that the quail on Tiritiri Matangi are Australian brown quail, Coturnix ypsilophora. Sequences were derived for all quail species within the Australian and New Zealand Coturnix sp. complex.
It has sometimes been considered conspecific with the Australian stubble quail Coturnix pectoralis, which would then be named Coturnix novaezelandiae pectoralis as the New Zealand bird was described first. However, the genetic analysis showed that they are separate though closely related species.