Songbird reference genome constructed to aid avian research

Researchers have transcribed the genome of the white-crowned sparrow, a longstanding model wild bird species used to understand bird biology.

Scientists have detailed the DNA code of this Arctic breeding migratory wild songbird, in a study that will bolster research into avian behaviour, environmental adaptability and evolution.  . 

The outcome, in a study led by the Roslin Institute with colleagues in the USA, should enrich and enable future studies that make use of the small songbird species as a model. 

Detailing DNA 

Researchers developed the bird’s genome using tissue recovered from birds in the wild. 

Genomic data was derived from samples using technology that produces lengthy transcriptions of DNA, together with a separate technique that gives insights on 3D aspects of the genome. 

The resulting reference genome of more than 1.1 billion base pairs – the fundamental units that compose DNA – is the most detailed description of the species’ DNA to date. 

Supporting research 

The reference tool an now be used by researchers around the world in studies of bird behaviour, evolution, or physiology. It may enable better understanding of fundamental aspects of avian biology, and to investigate specific aspects of behaviour, such as how birds respond to stress and climate change. 

The study, entitled 'A chromosome-level genome assembly of a free-living white-crowned sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)', was published in the journal Scientific Data.



This high-quality genome assembly is a useful research tool to support work in bird biology. It represents an important step in creating reference materials that act as a building block to further our knowledge of avian species.

This will allow us to have a deeper understanding of the molecular pathways that regulate annual reproductive cycles, behaviour and resilience of these Arctic breeding birds to survive in a rapidly changing world.