(CN) — In a trio of studies released Wednesday, scientists revealed major breakthroughs in the research of animal genomes — their most detailed look at vertebrate evolution yet.
For generations, experts have worked to construct comprehensive profiles of Earth’s creatures to explain how they evolved and coexisted with others during their long and often complicated histories. Perhaps one of the most crucial elements in these profiles is the DNA information for each animal, which is how scientists can learn about the evolutionary patterns at a fundamental and genetic level.
It is therefore no secret why so many in the scientific community have long worked towards expanding their abilities in the area of genome sequencing and alignment, a complex process in which researchers attempt to determine the exact order and type of genetic building blocks that make up a complete DNA sequence.
In an effort to expand their knowledge of genome sequencing and alignment — a complex process by which scientists determine the exact order and type of genetic building blocks that make up a complete DNA sequence — researchers unveiled a trio of studies Wednesday detailing advancements in the field of vertebrate genetics that have already resulted in hundreds of newly sequenced animal genomes.
They published their work in the journal Nature.
The researchers revealed a new method of aligning genomes in which the look into DNA sequences and essentially determine which elements of genomes have changed or evolved over time and which have not.
This breakthrough gives them the ability to see how different species are related to each other on a genetic level but also helps them identify pieces of genetic information that could control critical functions across a range of species.
Using this method, the researchers sequenced hundreds of new animal genomes, including 242 placental mammal genomes and 363 bird genomes.
The work to sequence avian genomes represents what researchers say is a tremendous milestone for the for the Bird 10,000 Genomes Project (B10K), a program to successfully sequencing the genomes of every known bird species on the planet.
"B10K is probably the single most important project ever conducted in the study of birds," said Gary Graves, curator of birds at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and one of B10K's seven organizers, with the release of the studies. "We're not only hoping to learn about the phylogenetic relationships among the major branches of the tree of life of birds, but we're providing an enormous amount of comparative data for the study of the evolution of vertebrates and life itself."
The newly sequenced genomes are potential treasure troves of information for experts to comb through, giving them insight into evolutionary backstories, explaining genetic relationships between otherwise disconnected animal species and even providing information that could help inform conservation decisions for threatened or endangered animals.
And the research revealed Thursday is only the beginning. Future efforts and other related projects, such as the Vertebrate Genome Project and the Earth BioGenome Project, are well underway and bent on expanding the roster of sequenced genomes even further.
All of the newly sequenced genomes reported in Wednesday’s studies have also been made available to the scientific community free of charge.
Benedict Paten, associate professor of biomolecular engineering at University of California, Santa Cruz, and a corresponding author of two of the new papers, said given these new genome-related advancements and the work being done in the scientific community to broader our understanding of evolution, the future of genetic research appears bright.
"These are very much forward-looking papers, because the methods we've developed will scale to alignments of thousands of genomes," Paten said. "As sequencing technology gets cheaper and faster, people are sequencing hundreds of new species, and this opens up new possibilities for understanding evolutionary relationships and the genetic underpinnings of biology. There is a colossal amount of information in these genomes."Follow @@CarsonAndLloyd
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