AsianScientist (Aug. 23, 2011) – In an article newly published in the journal Genome Biology, an international consortium of researchers present the first kangaroo genome sequence – that of the tammar wallaby species – and find hidden in their data the gene that may well be responsible for the kangaroo’s characteristic hop.
“The tammar wallaby sequencing project has provided us with many possibilities for understanding how marsupials are so different to us,” says Prof. Marilyn Renfree of The University of Melbourne.
Renfree was one of the lead researchers on the project, which was conducted by an international consortium of scientists from Australia, USA, Japan, England, and Germany.
In addition to zeroing in on the “hop” genes, other exciting discoveries from the genome include the 1,500 smell detector genes responsible for the tammar wallaby’s excellent sense of smell, and genes that make antibiotics in the mother’s milk in order to protect kangaroo newborns from E. coli and other harmful bacteria. As Prof. Renfree explains, lessons to be learned from the tammar wallaby genome “may well be helpful in producing future treatments for human disease.”
As the ancestors of kangaroos separated from other mammals at least 130 million years ago, it is hoped that the DNA sequence is a living fossil of the early mammalian species from which humans evolved.
To understand the kangaroo evolutionary journey better, the researchers plan to study its “transcriptome”, which reflects how strongly each gene is turned “on” or “off” at different stages of the tammar life cycle in different parts of the body.
The tammar wallaby is only the third marsupial, and only the second Australian marsupial (after the Tasmanian devil), to have its genome sequenced.
As the kangaroo is an icon of Australia, whose image appears on its coat of arms, currency, and national airline symbol, the publication of its genome sequence in Genome Biology stands as a landmark day in Australian science.
Source: Biomed Central.
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