Skip Navigation

DNA from extinct giant birds recovered from 3,550 years old museum specimens

DNA from extinct giant birds recovered from 3,550 years old museum specimens

Moas were giant flightless birds that lived in New Zealand during the Pleistocene epoch (about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago). The largest moa species reached 12-feet high with neck extended and weighed about 500 pounds!  All moas were extinct by 1400 A.D. due to overhunting and general habitat loss.  In 1992, a team of international scientists led by Allan Wilson and Svante Pääbo sequenced short stretches of mitochondrial DNA from museum specimens of four moas dating as far back as 3,550 years ago.  In 1992, this was the oldest DNA sequence ever recovered, and its analysis helped unravel the relationships between moas and living flightless birds such as ostriches and kiwis.

Did you know? The nine species of moas were the only true wingless birds, lacking even the residual wings present in all other wingless birds such as ostriches.

1992