DNRF centers’ genomic research on the births of birds made the runner-up (2nd) place in Science’ annual list on Breakthrough of the year.

The genomes of modern birds tell a story of how they emerged and evolved after the massextinction that wiped out dinosaurs and almost everything else 66 million years ago. That story has come to light, thanks to an ambitious international collaboration led by Dr. Guojie Zhang of the National Genebank at BGI in China and Professor Thomas P. Gilbert of the Natural History Museum of Denmark. The result is rewarded with a prestigious 2nd place in Science’ annual list on Breakthrough of the year.


The sequensed species include the crow, duck, falcon, parakeet, crane, ibis, woodpecker, eagle and others, representing all major branches of modern birds.

“BGI’s strong support and four years of hard work by the entire community have enabled usto answer numerous fundamental questions to an unprecedented scale,” says Guojie Zhang.“This is the largest whole genomic study across a single vertebrate class to date. The success of this project can only be achieved with the excellent collaboration of all the consortium members.”

“Although an increasing number of vertebrate genomes are being released, to date no single study has deliberately targeted the full diversity of any major vertebrate group,” Tom Gilbert adds. “This is precisely what our consortium set out to do. Only with this scale of sampling can scientists truly begin to fully explore the genomic diversity within a full vertebrate class.”

Gigantic cooperation

Scientists already knew that the birds who survived the mass extinction experienced a rapid burst of evolution. But the family tree of modern birds has confused biologists for centuries and the molecular details of how birds arrived at the spectacular biodiversity of more than 10,000 species is barely known. To resolve these fundamental questions, a consortium of more than 200 scientists from 80 institutions in 20 countries have cooperated on ”The Avian Phylogenomic Project” for four years. The cooperation involves quite a few researchers from DNRF Centers of Excellence, among others Guojie Zhang who is affiliated with Center for Social Evolution, Eske Willerslev, center leader at Centre for GeoGenetics, Carsten Rahbek, center leader at Center for for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, plus Jon Fjeldså og Knud Jønsson. The study emerged in the synergy between Tom Gilbert (Centre for GeoGenetics) and Guojie Zhang, across different institutes and as a cooperation between individual researchers from DNRF Centers of Excellence.
“It’s a fantastic example of the fact that DNRF Centers of Excellence are not limited to do research in their own core fields. They contribute to the establishment of younger researchers who create new research areas outside the existing DNRF Centers of Excellence”, says Carsten Rahbek.

Read more at Centre for for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate’s websiteCenter for Social Evolution

Science’ annual list on Breakthrough of the year