Discover Your Island

Dr. Chris Bird

An Outstanding Islander

Outline photo of Dr. Chris Bird

Cutting Costs for Cutting-Edge Research

Dr. Chris Bird is part of a team of researchers who can now look at the DNA of a wide range of animals and see how the genes in populations of oysters can change from yesterday to today.

Bird, Assistant Professor of Biology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and his colleagues, have created a new simplified process called ezRAD, a unique approach to genotyping that allows labs to conduct research with little technical knowledge that could potentially save more than $100,000 in laboratory equipment.

“We are really putting Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi on the map in the field of population genomics,” said Bird. “We are bringing high-tech, cutting edge research right here to Corpus Christi.”

ezRAD allows researchers at the Island University to ask questions on how human activities are affecting the genetic structure of an animal’s population. Bird says that because they can sequence so much of the genome in hundreds of individuals at a low cost, they can detect how populations are responding to natural and human-induced pressures. This information can potentially affect the management of economically important species in Texas, like oysters and red snapper.

“Instead of asking what happened in a population’s genome over the past 1,000 years, we can ask questions that are impacting populations today,” said Bird. “Because we can see so much of an animal’s DNA, we can now ask what has changed today compared to yesterday.”

With the assistance of his co-authors; Dr. Robert J. Toonen of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, and Jonathan B. Puritz, a post-doctoral student at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Bird has developed an easy way for scientists to look at organism’s genes. Costly traditional methods for genotyping required researchers to work with model organisms that have well-developed genomic resources.

However, Bird uses restriction enzymes that can recognize particular sequences of nucleotides in an organism’s DNA. They then sequence the DNA on either side of the restriction cut sites.

“We have sequenced everything from sea stars to dolphins and the new process worked,” said Bird. “It worked the first time and it has worked every time.”