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Two critically endangered California condors have successfully laid eggs without the help of male condors, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance announced Thursday.

The organization said the discovery of parthenogenesis, or asexual reproduction, was a first for the species and was achieved through the use of molecular genetic testing.

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This week the phenomenon was detailed by conservation scientists at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Coalition Journal of Heredity of the American Genetic Association,

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scientists explained That during routine analysis of biological samples of two condors in the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Coalition’s Managed Breeding Program, they confirmed that each condor chick was genetically related to a related female condor, which had laid the egg from which it was born.

Neither bird was found to be genetically related to a male condor – and the researchers tested 467 male condors as potential fathers in the breeding pool – even though two mother condors, or dams, were kept with consistently fertile male partners. .

This was the first of any avian species where a female bird had access to a mate, the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Coalition said.

“This is truly an amazing discovery,” said study co-author Oliver Ryder, co-author of the study for conservation genetics at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Coalition. “We weren’t really looking for evidence of parthenogenesis, it just hit us in the face. We only confirmed it because of the usual genetic studies that we do to prove paternity. Our results showed that both The eggs contained the expected male ZZ sex chromosomes, but all markers were inherited only from their dams, confirming our findings.”

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In addition to the California condor parthenotes, both dams also produced many offspring through sexual reproduction with their mates. One had 11 chicks and the other, which was mated to a male for more than 20 years, had 23 chicks and reproduced twice after parthenogenesis.

Parthenogenesis – also known as “virgin birth” – is a natural form of asexual reproduction in which an embryo that is not fertilized by sperm continues to develop, containing only the mother’s genetic material. The offspring are called parthenotes.

This process is relatively rare in birds and examples were mainly confined to domestic birds and are generally seen in females who do not have access to males.

The California condor is a critically endangered species and the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Coalition stated that it was through the California Condor Recovery Program and genetics and genomics research that scientists were able to confirm the result of this specific case of parthenogenesis before “historic genetics”. Were able to surpass the record.”

Although one chick died in 2003 at age 2 and the other at age 7 in 2017, the researchers said they would continue future genotyping efforts in the hope of identifying other parthenogenetic cases.

“These findings now raise the question of whether this may not be known in other species,” Ryder said.

Breeding efforts to save California condors have produced over 1,000 chicks And, following the re-introduction of some into the wild, the population has increased. 500. more than In both human care and free-flying in California, Arizona, Utah and Baja California.