University of Western Australia’s (UWA) DNA Zoo initiative has been awarded a grant from Microsoft for a project that aims to help protect more than one million animal and plant species that are at risk of extinction.
DNA Zoo is a global initiative that involves more than 55 partners in eight countries, and UWA is the leading arm in Australia that collects, sequences, and analyses animal DNA as part of the initiative.
The funds from the grant will be used by DNA Zoo to develop the concept of using scat retrieval drones (SRDs) to collect genome samples of more than 40 threatened mammals in Australia, before using Microsoft cloud computing to democratise the analysis for DNA-based species monitoring.
The collected samples through the DNA Zoo program will be open source so it can be integrated with other open source data with machine learning applied to allow researchers to look for patterns of why some animals appear to thrive to slow or reverse the decline of endangered species.
For instance, the insights may help explain why quokka’s thrive on Rottnest Island but struggle on the mainland.