Scientists have succeeded in sequencing and comparing the DNA of almost every species of mammal on Earth. The results of a package of 11 relevant studies were published in a special issue of the journal Science, writes Vice.
We are talking about the Zoonomia project, which has already been called the largest and most ambitious genetic project in history. Experts have dubbed it the “expansion of the mammalverse” and believe that the results and applications of the research promise to amaze in the coming decades.
The uniqueness of the project is that scientists were able to sequence the DNA of 240 mammals, covering 80% of all mammal families, including more than 50 species that are under threat of extinction. Previously, specialists could sequence and compare the genomes of only a few species in a certain group, for example, bats.
Thanks to the project, scientists were able to assess how the genomes of mammals changed over time. Elinor Karlsson, one of the project’s leaders and director of the Vertebrate Genomics Group at MIT’s Broad Institute, explained that some genomes are really similar across mammals, some have changed about as much as expected, and others have suddenly undergone huge changes. Each type of change explains something important to the researchers, for example, adaptation to the environment, extraordinary abilities, etc.
At the same time, it is also important for specialists to understand which sections of DNA perform certain functions and how our genes work in order to find ways to treat inherited diseases, such as heart disease, schizophrenia or diabetes.
An equally important result of the Zoonomia project was the DNA analysis of the famous dog Balto. He led a group of dogs on a mission to Alaska and was unique in his physical endurance. The analysis showed that the dog was less inbred than similar modern dog breeds and had fewer gene mutations that could put him at risk of disease.
The project’s other research concerns issues of biodiversity and conservation, the evolution of brain size, and the timing of the appearance of mammals. Scientists hope that all this will open the door to further study of mammals on Earth.
Previously Nature Ecology & Evolution published the results of another interesting study. They show that marine species of animals, which usually live in coastal areas, build “houses” from plastic waste and survive in them in the open sea.