There has been some interest expressed in knowing what happens after you send me the feather samples. In case you are interested, I will try to explain what I do with all of these samples.
After the feathers are received, I clean them to remove any debris or dust that may be on them. Then I trim the sample, keeping only the bottom inch or so and place this in a digestion buffer containing an enzyme which breaks down the cells and releases the DNA. After that I concentrate the DNA and remove the digestion buffer and any the remainder of the feather. Once I have the pure DNA, I clean it and use a machine to determine the concentration of DNA that was gathered. The concentration is different for each feather. It depends on the size of the feather, whether or not it contained blood, the type of feather, the age of the feather, and luck.
Once we have the DNA we use PCR to amplify regions within the genome that contain markers. We test multiple regions where markers are found and we send them away for genotyping which tells us specific information about each marker that is unique to the bird. The markers are different for different birds, but tend to be more similar or the same within breeds and the more similar the markers are between breeds, the more closely related those two breeds are. We use computer programs at this stage to determine which breeds are more closely related.
This is why we need a large number of samples, because crossing birds will change these markers.
I realize that this might not be clear and please feel free to post questions and let me know where it doesn't make sense and I will attempt to clarify.
Also thanks to all of you who have sent in samples. Please keep them coming so that we can keep this project moving.