Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mapping Genomes

The mapping of the human genome is old news by now. So what do genome mappers do when the project ends?

They map animals.

The AP reported May 8, 2008, that scientists have mapped the genome of the duck-billed platypus.

Scientists said they have mapped the genetic makeup of the platypus -- one of nature's strangest animals with a bill like a duck's, a mammal's fur and snake-like venom.

The research showed the animal's multifaceted features are reflected in its DNA with a mix of genes that crosses different classifications of animals, said Jenny Graves, an Australian National University genomics expert who co-wrote the paper.

"What we found was the genome, just like the animal, is an amazing amalgam of reptilian and mammal characteristics with quite a few unique platypus characteristics as well," she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

More than 100 scientists from the United States, Australia, Japan and other nations took part in the research, using DNA collected from a female platypus named Glennie.

Their work adds to the growing list of animals whose genetic makeup has been unraveled.

Pretty impressive stuff.

I've always had a soft spot for the platypus (until I learned about the snake venom in the males), because they look so randomly glued together and because their name just sounds humorous. It's good to know they're as random on the inside as they are on the outside.

OK, so mapping the platypus is interesting, and it could be helpful, but the Canadian Press reported November 19, 2008, that scientists have mapped the wooly mammoth.

Scientists have sequenced much of the genome of the woolly mammoth, raising the tantalizing but remote possibility that one day the long-extinct mammal could be resurrected to again trudge through the Arctic snow.

The researchers at Penn State University extracted DNA from mammoth hair found frozen in the permafrost of Siberia, where the massive beasts once roamed up until about 10,000 years ago, before their species disappeared for good.

The ground-breaking work, published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, is the first time an extinct animal's genome has been decoded, and the first time DNA from an extinct animal was obtained solely from its hair.

The scientists have been able to sequence about 80 per cent of the behemoth's genome, comparing short snippets of DNA taken from the hair of 18 different animals entombed beneath the Siberian ice.

The research raises the notion that the ice age's woolly mammoth could be brought back to life, much as dinosaurs were resurrected in the film "Jurassic Park."

Theoretically, science could evolve to the point that researchers could one day put together genetic material that would approach the ancient creature's blueprint for life, using the yet-to-be sequenced genome of the modern elephant, the mammoth's closest biological relative.

One word: Why?

They've mapped the mammoth, but they haven't bothered with the elephant?

And they're actually talking about bringing back the mammoth. Where would they put these resurrected creatures? In the Arctic? Where global warming is supposedly melting their habitat and killing off the polar bear?

Would the scientists be upset if polar bears hunted down the presumably expensive mammoths and ate them for dinner?

It brings to mind a quote from Jurassic Park, when Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) said, "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."


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