Life has found a way. According to a new study, two captive California condors were born from unfertilized eggs, suggesting that the critically endangered species is able to reproduce asexually.
The discovery was made by a team of researchers from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. When checking biological samples from two California condor chicks, the birds examined showed that they were genetically related to their mother, but had no evidence of having a father.
Oliver Ryder, director of Kleberg Endowed of Conservation Genetics at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and co-author of the study, said in a statement that the team was not looking for evidence of asexual reproduction, and the results “told us. punched in the face. ”Their findings were published Thursday in the Journal of Hereditary.
“It really is an incredible discovery,” said Ryder. “We only confirmed this due to the normal genetic studies we do to prove parentage. Our results showed that both eggs had the expected male ZZ sex chromosomes, but all markers were only inherited from their (mothers). ), checking our findings. “
The process of giving birth to condors is known as parthenogenesis, when an embryo unfertilized by sperm continues to develop with only the genetic code of the mother. Animals such as Komodo dragons and starfish can reproduce through this process, but it is very rare in birds, as turkeys and pigeons are one of the few avian animals able to do so.
What makes the discovery of the condors even more confusing is that the mothers of the chicks were able to mate with a male partner.
Both chicks were from their own mothers, but they were each housed with a fertile male counterpart, according to the zoo. One mother had given birth to 11 chicks previously, while the other had given birth to 23 chicks in 20 years with the same partner. The zoo said the latter female has bred with a partner two more times after reproducing asexually.
“We believe our results represent the first case of facultative avian parthenogenesis in a species of wild bird, where a male and female are housed together,” said Cynthia Steiner, associate director of the San Conservation Research Division. Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance and study co-author.
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With a wingspan of 10 feet, California condors are the largest flying birds in North America. They once lived all over the West Coast, but only 22 survived into the 1980s when the US government captured them and placed them in zoos for captive breeding. About 160 were bred at the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.
As for the number of condors alive today, the number is not known. The Associated Press reported that there are around 500 alive, of which 300 live in the wild in California, Arizona, Utah and Mexico.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which classifies the species as Critically Endangered, says there are only 93 mature individuals in the wild, but the population is increasing.
While the two chicks did not reach the 60-year-old life expectancy – one born in 2001 died two years later and the other died in 2017 at the age of 8 – scientists say ask if other species are able to reproduce the process, and if it could bring new life to the California condor population.
Contribution: Associated Press
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