Scientific consortium Bird10K publishes world's largest genome resource for bird species to date

White-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Photo: Oliver Krone
White-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla). Photo: Oliver Krone

The international consortium Bird10K aims to produce genome sequences for all known bird species in the world. Now the team of scientists around Prof Andre Franke at the Institute for Clinical Molecular Biology at the University of Kiel (IKMB) has reached a new milestone: In the scientific journal "Nature" they published the largest vertebrate genome project to date with a total of 363 species. Franke's team, led by Dr Marc Höppner from the IKMB, used the expertise and modern technical equipment of the Kiel Genome Centre CCGA for this project. Part of the genome project is the best genome reference to date for the strictly protected white-tailed sea eagle, which was created in cooperation with the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW). The genome resource lays the foundation for a large number of research projects on the biology of different species and will also make a significant contribution to their protection.

The Bird10K consortium is a collaboration of dozens of working groups from all over the world, who have the common goal of sequencing the genome of all living and some already extinct species of birds. The research data from these working groups now represent the world's largest genome resource for birds to date, with a total of 363 species from almost all known bird families (92%). Altogether, the scientists sequenced almost one trillion nucleotides, which roughly correspond to an added genome length of 284 billion base pairs. The human genome, by comparison, has about 3 billion base pairs.

With this data collected, B10K scientists were able to carry out the first high-resolution comparative study of evolutionary patterns in the genomes of a large proportion of the world's known bird families. They found different selection signatures that are related, for example, to the development of body cells, but also to the distinctive singing voice of many species, as well as other genetic innovations. “In the future, this resource will provide an important basis for genetic analyses of a wide variety of bird species, expand our understanding of their biology, but also contribute to the protection of endangered species - for example through genetically informed rearing programmes,” says Prof Dr Andre Franke from the CCGA genome centre at the IKMB in Kiel.

In cooperation with Dr Oliver Krone from the Leibniz-IZW, the genome specialists at the IKMB created the best reference genome to date for Northern Germany's “king of the air” – the white-tailed sea eagle. In a long-term project at the Leibniz-IZW, Krone is investigating the biology, health status and causes of mortality of the white-tailed sea eagle. “For the future, we hope that this new quality of the entire genome will enable us to better understand diseases and uncover their causes,” says Krone. “For example, the specific genes responsible for the so-called 'pinching-off syndrome' – a generalised malformation of the feathers in eagles – are still unknown. We are working together to identify the secret of this genetic disease”.

Today, modern molecular methods enable scientists to decipher the entire genome of a species. These genetic blueprints can provide information on the inherited basis of appearance, behaviour, adaptation to habitats and diseases. In addition, the availability of more and more genome sequences allows increasingly detailed comparisons between species to be made, thus revealing the signatures of past evolutionary processes that have contributed to today's biodiversity.

About Bird10K

Since 2014, universities, research institutions and museums worldwide have been working in the B10K consortium to decipher the genetic material of all known bird species, led by institutes in China, Denmark, USA, Australia and the United Kingdom. B10K processes approximately 2,500 samples representing 2,400 species from 1,370 genera, 300 families and 36 orders.


Feng, S., Stiller, J., Deng, Y. et al. Dense sampling of bird diversity increases power of comparative genomics. Nature 587, 252–257 (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2873-9


Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (Kiel University)
Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology
D-24098 Kiel

Dr. Marc Höppner
Scientist in the Group „Genetics and Bioinformatics”

Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW)
in the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.
Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17, 10315 Berlin

Dr Oliver Krone
Scientist in the Department of Wildlife Diseases
phone: +49 (0)30 5168212

Jan Zwilling
Science Communication
phone: +49 (0)30 5168121

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