By Ashley Hedrick
On Friday September 7, our Harpy Eagle research group took a trip to Purdue University to meet with researchers who have just finished a Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) genome. This was a wonderful opportunity for those of us working on the Harpy genome to present our hypothesis to those who have already done work in this field and receive feedback that will later guide our research. While visiting Purdue, we were lucky enough not only to discuss our ideas about research, but we also met with individuals pursuing their graduate degrees and visiting researchers, including a professor from Turkey. They gave us a tour of their lab which at any given time can have 7-15 individuals working on completely independent research projects. This really gave our group a sense of what the next step of our education might be like if we go on to graduate work in scientific research.
This week we are continuing to work on developing our individual hypothesis that will be tested with the assembled harpy eagle genome. My project focuses on a gene complex that plays a vital role in immune responses to viral infections and is known as the MHC class I gene. The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyia) lives in a wide range that extends from Northern Argentina to Southern Mexico. Since this area is tropical, it holds a greater diversity of viruses than more temperate regions. Increased rates of viral infection over time are thought to positively select for higher rates of variation in the MHC complex because more variability, particularly in antigen binding regions, would allow for a stronger immune response.
Comparing the diversity of the MHC in the Harpy eagle genome with other raptors will allow us to better understand the mechanisms that provide defense against viral infections and also to understand the evolutionary history of MHC in raptors.