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Little penguins, big love

This Valentine's Day, love is not only in the air but also along the coastal shores of Australia and New Zealand, where the world's smallest penguin species, the Fairy Penguins, prepare for the final month of their annual mating rituals. This year there's one more thing to celebrate on February 14th as DNA Zoo Australia team unveils the first chromosome-length assembly and a 3D genome map for these waddly symbols of love and commitment (even though their real-life social and courtship relationships are rather complicated).

The chromosome-length genome assembly shared today was generated using a sample from the Perth Zoo (Western Australia) provided by Dr. Matyas Liptovszky, Director Life Sciences, Perth Zoo. The assembly is based on previous work published by Pan et. al., 2020 in GigascienceWe thank the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre for computational support for this genome assembly. See theDNA Zoo Methods page for more detail on the procedure, and check out the interactive contact map on the assembly page.

Dr. Matyas Liptovszky, Perth Zoo's Life Sciences Director, stresses the importance of using genetic resources to help guide Little Penguin conservation as it faces challenges such as overfishing and predation. The zoo's Penguin Plunge exhibit, since 1999, provides a safe haven. Through breeding programs and daily Penguin Feeds, visitors engage in crucial conservation support. "Utilising 3D DNA maps in our conservation program marks a pivotal moment for Perth Zoo. The advanced genetic tools created through the partnership between DNA Zoo Australia and Perth Zoo will enable crafting a robust strategy that will ensure the survival of these enigmatic creatures against looming threats," says Dr. Matyas Liptovszky.

This work has been enabled and conducted under Western Australian Genome Atlas (WAGA) initiative generously funded through Lotterywest. Our sincere thanks to the Lotterywest for their ongoing support through funding the WA Genome Atlas initiative and to the collective expertise and support of our WA partner organisations.

As we celebrate love in all its forms this Valentine's Day, let us take a moment to appreciate the wonders of the natural world and the extraordinary creatures that inhabit it. Every 20 minutes, a species goes extinct from our planet. So, whether snuggled with loved ones or admiring the courtship rituals of Fairy Penguins, please take a moment to also think about our love, commitment and collective responsibility to protect the Earth's biodiversity.

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