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The scimitar oryx strikes back

The scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) is a member of the subfamily Hippotraginae (the “horse antelopes”), one of the subfamilies included in the ruminant family Bovidae (which includes the domestic varieties of cows, goats, and sheep). The assembly of the sable antelope, another member of this subfamily, was previously published by the DNA Zoo. The scimitar-horned oryx may be the source of the unicorn myth in antiquity!

At one time, scimitar-horned oryx migrated widely across the grassy steppes of the Sahel and edges of the Sahara Desert in north Africa. This species displays adaptive hyperthermia, as animals can tolerate internal temperatures of 116ºF, which helps them to conserve water in their desert environment. Due to over-hunting and habitat loss, the species was declared “Extinct in the Wild” in 2000 by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a designation that remains to this day.

However, through successful global captive breeding and management efforts, and led by the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi and the Sahara Conservation Fund, scimitar-horned oryx were reintroduced back into the wild in Chad in 2016, with additional individuals returned in 2017 and 2018. Calves have been born and the population is slowly growing, with the hope that there will be large enough numbers of scimitar-horned oryx so that they become independent of human care. You can learn more about The Scimitar-horned Oryx Reintroduction Program in Chad at the Sahara Conservation Fund website.

Today, we share the chromosome-length assembly for the scimitar-horned oryx. The draft assembly for this release was generated using 10x Genomics linked-read sequencing and Supernova version 2.0 using genetic material from a male individual from the captive herd at the National Zoological Park – Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, USA. The Hi-C upgrade was based on a female sample from the same herd. We hope the new chromosome-length assembly will serve as a foundation for genomic research aimed at the conservation of both captive and reintroduced populations of this iconic antelope species. Find out more about the assembly and its use in our recent preprint (Humble et al., 2019)!

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