Scientists are a step closer to bringing back a species of flightless bird that has been extinct for almost 700 years. The little bush moa that inhabited parts of New Zealand went abruptly extinct as a result of overhunting in the late 13th century.
A team of researchers from Harvard University has assembled a nearly-complete genome of the extinct moa by extracting ancient DNA from the toe bone of a moa specimen held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada.
The scientists now believe that they are closer to the goal of "de-extinction" — the vanished species can be brought back to life by slipping the genome into the egg of a living species, Statnews reported.
"High throughput sequencing has revolutionized the field of ancient DNA (aDNA) by facilitating recovery of nuclear DNA for greater inference of evolutionary processes of extinct species than is possible from mitochondrial DNA alone," according to the study.
The little bush moa was a part of the palaeognathae clade of birds and birds, and those like the kiwi, ostrich, and emu were considered its cousins. There were nine species of the moa but all of them are extinct now.
They roamed in the forests of the North and South Islands of New Zealand before they became extinct, the NZ Herald said. They were on an average four feet tall and weighed about 66 pounds.
Experts believe that the Harvard researchers' work could make it easier to bring back the long-lost species from extinction.
"The fact that they could get a genome from a little bush moa toe is a big deal since now we might be able to use their data to do other extinct bird species," Ben Novak, lead scientist at non-profit conservation group Revive and Restore, told Statnews.
"De-extinction could be useful for inspiring new science and could be beneficial for conservation if we ensure it doesn't reduce existing conservation resources," University of Queensland scientist Hugh Possingham said in a statement.
"However, in general, it is best if we focus on the many species that need our help now," he added.