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Did The Dodo Sing?

Did The Dodo Sing?

Dodo bird, painted by Roelant Savery c. 1626 (credit: UK Natural History Museum/Wikipedia)

Did the Dodo have a song? Did it screech like an owl? have a cackling laugh like a kookaburra? or  clacked beaks like penguins? No one knows since the Dodo is extinct.

The Dodo was discovered in 1598 peacefully inhabitating the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. The flightless bird was easy to catch but their rapid decline was due less to meat hunting than from impacts caused by introduced rats, cats, and pigs. These feral, invasive animals destroyed its habitat and ate the eggs of this ground nesting bird. By 1680 the Dodo was extinct and almost became mythological to future generations. David Quammnen's excellent book The Song of the Dodo, on biogeography and species distribution, addressesits extinction as well as many other issues affected by the loss of biodiversity. A short history of the Dodo, its evolution on Mauritius, and its extinction due to invasive species is provided by this animation. 

However, things could change for better if de-extinction research proves successful with the Dodo. A Texas tech company, Colossal Biosciences, is developing methods that could potentially bring back the Dodo bird as well as two other iconic animals, also extinct. According to Colossal, they are sequencing Dodo DNA extracted from a skull in a Danish museum to build a map its complete genome. The Dodo is essentially a large pigeon that evolved to become flightless on an island that lacked predators. Wings were not necessary there. Its closest living relative is another pigeon native to the Nicobar Islands elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. This bird will provide cell embryos for editing with Dodo-specific DNA once sequencing and associated genetic traits is known. Chicken eggs will be used to recieve the new embryos, potentially producing dodo chicks when they hatch.

Colossal has partnered with the Maurtius Wildlife Foundation to restore habitats for their Dodo restoration plans when, and if, they are reproduced. For the company, these de-extinction efforts are an engine for creating innovations that could be applied elsewhere. No date has been announced for the first chicks to potentially hatch. Time will tell if the Dodo could sing. WHB

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