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Penguins are a distinctive group of flightless seabirds found exclusively in the southern hemisphere, occupying an extensive geographic range extending from the Galapagos Islands to the Antarctic continent. For most scientists, penguins are considered sentinels of the marine environment, providing insight into the health and productivity of our marine ecosystems. Unfortunately, over 55% of all penguin species are currently listed on the IUCN red list as being at risk of extinction. Climate change, over fishing, pollution, and disease are considered the major threats to their survival.

Within all higher organisms, lives a thriving ecosystem of microorganisms including, bacteria, viruses and fungi. These microorganisms are crucial for an animal’s health, nutrition and physiology, playing an important role in digestion, protection against harmful pathogens, secretion and synthesis of essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids. However, alterations of this community can have detrimental impacts on an animal’s health. So if penguins are sentinels for ocean health, then microbes could be considered as sentinels for penguin health.

It has been predicted that the incidence of infectious diseases amongst humans and wildlife populations will rapidly increase with a warming climate. However, our ability to diagnose disease in penguins in the wild is hampered by a lack of information not only about the aetiology and the disease itself, but also a lack of information on what is considered to be normal and what is actually pathogenic. Therefore, if we are to truly understand what organisms cause disease in penguins and how microbes affect penguin health and survival, then we need to know what organisms are naturally occurring and what factors influence their presence.

This work will further our knowledge on the basic biology of penguins and will provide vital baseline data on the composition of the penguin microbiome and the functional role that these microbes play in penguin health and disease. In addition, it will further our understanding and improve our ability to predict, measure and respond to the impact of environmental changes including climate change, prey depletion, introduction of non-native microbes and infectious disease on penguin health and physiology.

Meet the Study Species 

King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor)

Meet the Research Team

Dr Meagan Dewar (Deakin University)

Professor John Arnould (Deakin University)

Dr Tamsyn Crowley (Deakin University)

Dr Theo Allnutt (Deakin University)

Dr Phil Trathan (British Antarctic Survey)

How The Funds Will Be Used

If $10,000 is raised we will sequence the metagenome of 42 individual penguins from four species of penguin (king, gentoo, macaroni and little penguin) to examine if the penguins share a core microbiome or if each species of penguins have their own unique microbiome, and to start to understand the functional role that microbes play in penguin health and physiology.  This funding will cover the cost of sample preparation and costs of 2 lanes on a HiSeq sequencing machine to sequence the DNA from the faecal sample.

If $14,000 is raised, we will increase the sample size to 72, which will allow us to sequence the metagenome of the original 48 samples, plus include additional samples from 2 different colonies for little and macaroni penguins.

If $19,000 is raised, in addition to being able to complete the study above, we will also be able to sequence the metagenome of fasting king, gentoo and little penguins. This additional analysis will provide insight into how penguins are adapted to long periods of fasting and how fasting during moult influences their microbiome and metabolic pathways.

The Challenges

The greatest challenge for this project will be the metagenomic analysis. Metagenomic sequencing produces a large amount of data that will need to be analysed, luckily within our team we have highly experienced bioinformaticians who are experienced in working with metagenomic data. This work however will be time consuming and meticulous.

on 6th Dec 2016 at 6:00am. The payment portal is closed now.
AU$2 +$2+ Tax Deductible ReceiptDonations above this amount may be issued a tax deductible receipt by our organisation
3 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is December 2016
AU$25 +Penguin PrintWe will send you a Penguin Photo Print and tweet your name or twitter handle as a thank you
11 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is January 2017
AU$50 +Penguin BookmarkFor $50 dollars we will send you a Penguin Bookmark and tweet your name or twitter handle as a thank you
10 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is January 2017
AU$100 +Personalised Thank you CardFor $100 dollars we will tweet your name or twitter handle and send you a personalised thank you card
2 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is January 2017
AU$500 +Wildlife CalendarFor $500 we will send you a 2017 wildlife calendar designed by Dr Meagan Dewar, from her personal collection of wildlife photographs from around the world. We will also tweet your name or twitter handle as a thank you.
4 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is January 2017
AU$1000 +Personal Presentation of ResultsFor $1000 dollars Dr Meagan Dewar will give a presentation about results from this research project. Would you, your kids school, business or community group like to learn more about Penguins and their Microbes? This presentation will provide you with the latest findings of our research and other projects this group is involved in.
0 Chosen | Unlimited AvailableEst. delivery is June 2017