Map comparing DNA of 240 mammal species unveiled by scientists

A huge map comparing the DNA of 240 mammal species that could revolutionise medicine has been unveiled by scientists.

The genomes – each a complete set of genetic information – identify key parts of humans that have remained unchanged after millions of years of evolution.

The Zoonomia Project is one of biology’s most ambitious to date. Featured animals range from the aardvark and the African elephant to the yellow-spotted rock hyrax and the zebu.

More than 150 people across seven time zones have contributed to the largest resource of its kind.

‘One of the biggest problems in genomics is that humans have a really big genome and we don’t know what all of it does,’ said Lead author Professor Elinor Karlsson, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

‘This package of papers really shows the range of what you can do with this kind of data, and how much we can learn from studying the genomes of other mammals.’

Over the past 100 million years, mammals have adapted to nearly every environment on Earth.

The findings, reported in a series of 11 studies in the journal Science, shed light on how some achieve extraordinary feats.

They also help experts better understand the parts of our genome that are functional and how they might influence health and disease.

They located regions of genomes, sometimes just single letters of DNA, that are most conserved and likely to be biologically important.

Some are linked to uncommon traits such as the ability to hibernate or sniff out faint scents from miles away. Others increase the risk of extinction due to climate change and loss of habitat.

There are mutations that make humans more vulnerable to rare or common diseases.

An international team analysed DNA samples collected by more than 50 different institutions worldwide.

Many came from the San Diego Wildlife Alliance, which provided genomes from species that are threatened or endangered.

Most of the conserved regions – which have changed more slowly than random fluctuations – are involved in embryonic development and regulation of gene expression.

Areas that changed more frequently shaped an animal’s interaction with its environment, such as through immune responses or the development of its skin.

The researchers found mammals with fewer genetic changes at conserved sites in the genome were at greater risk for extinction.

‘We are very enthusiastic about sequencing mammalian species,’ said Added co author Prof Lindblad-Toh, of Uppsala University, Sweden.

‘And we are excited to see how we and other researchers can work with this data in new ways to understand both genome evolution and human disease.’

Prof Karlsson, Prof Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, and colleagues used the mammalian genomes to study human traits and diseases.

They identified variants linked to diseases including cancer.

An examination of more than 10,000 genetic deletions specific to humans using both Zoonomia data and experimental analysis connected some to the function of neurons.

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