UH Hilo alumnus investigating avian genomes

by Susan Enright

David Arakawa and Renee Bellinger. Photo by Elijah Owens.

Genome research conducted by a recent graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo will lead to a better understanding of the unique evolution of the Hawaiian honeycreeper, a group of endemic and endangered birds found in the forests of Hawaiʻi.

David Arakawa, who hails from Oʻahu and graduated from UH Hilo with a bachelor of science in biology, began his research as an ʻIke Wai Scholar in his senior year. He will be starting graduate school fall 2018 in the UH Hilo Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science program.

As an undergraduate, Arakawa surveyed peer reviewed literature to identify candidate genes associated with bird beak shapes and sizes called beak phenotypes. He identified 10 genes that have shown repeated associations with beak shapes and patterns, including length of beak and mandible development.

Following identification of the genes, Arakawa mined gene sequence data from the U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information web-based repository to assess two scenarios: 1) the candidate gene is directly responsible for the phenotype, or 2) differences in gene expression are more likely to explain the phenotype.

“David has a keen attention to detail and is thorough, two traits that are important when conducting research,” says Renee Bellinger, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Biology and a postdoctoral researcher with the Tropical Conservation and Environmental Sciences program and Arakawa’s mentor for his ʻIke Wai Scholar work. “Gathering and tracking data must be carefully executed in order for that data to be beneficial to a project, and David is quite successful in both of those regards.”

Read more about Arakawa and his work at UH Hilo Stories.