Sequencing DNA of 10,000 vertebrates would help explain evolutionary mysteries

November 5th, 2009 - 12:57 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, November 5 (ANI): An international consortium of scientists is all set to launch an effort to sequence the DNA of 10,000 vertebrates.

The plan is to obtain, preserve, and sequence the DNA of approximately one species for each genus of living mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

“Understanding the evolution of the vertebrates is one of the greatest detective stories in science,” said David Haussler, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).

Known as the Genome 10K Project, the approximately 50 million dollars initiative is “tremendously exciting science that will have great benefits for human and animal health,” Haussler said.

“Within our lifetimes, we could get a glimpse of the genetic changes that have given rise to some of the most diverse life forms on the planet,” he added.

All living vertebrates descend from a single marine species that lived 500-600 million years ago.

Paleontologists do not know much about the physical appearance of that species, but because all of its descendents share certain characteristics, they know that it had segmented muscles, a forebrain, midbrain, and hind brain attached to spinal cord structures, and a sophisticated innate immune system.

That primitive vertebrate gave rise to what Haussler calls “one of the most spectacularly malleable branches of life.”

Vertebrates spread throughout the oceans, conquered land, and eventually took to the air.

Over the course of time they produced stunning innovations, including multichambered hearts, bones and teeth, an internal skeleton that has supported the largest aquatic and terrestrial animals on the planet, and a species of primate - Homo sapiens - that has produced sophisticated language, culture, and technology.

By sequencing the DNA of 10,000 vertebrates - roughly one-sixth of the 60,000 species estimated to be living today - biologists will be able to reconstruct the genetic changes that gave rise to this astonishing diversity.

Some parts of our DNA are very similar to the DNA of other vertebrates, reflecting our descent from a common ancestor, while other parts are markedly different.

“We can understand the function of elements in the human genome by seeing what parts of the genome have changed and what parts have not changed in humans and other animals,” said Haussler.

The project also will help conservation efforts by documenting the genomes and genetic diversity of threatened and endangered vertebrate species.

By helping scientists predict how species will respond to climate change, pollution, emerging diseases, and invasive competitors, it will support the assessment, monitoring, and management of biological diversity. (ANI)

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