Tuesday, August 13, 2013

You can carry the entire Chinese alligator genome on a USB stick

So Zhejiang University scientists have finally sequenced the entire genome for the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis). This is a pretty big deal, and the first fully published genome for any crocodilian. Amazingly, the entire genome is a "mere" 2.3 Gb of data, enough to fit onto a cheap USB stick, or perhaps on your phone.

Why is sequencing entire genomes important? Well, the genome contains all the instructions on how to build and operate a Chinese alligator, with all of its accrued evolutionary innovations over hundreds of millions of years, everything that makes this species both remarkable and unique. It's all there, all we have to do now is figure out which instructions do what. The team behind this have already identified several interesting "subroutines", such as modifications made to haemoglobin to increase oxygen carrying capacity, genes responsible for immunity and the function of antimicrobial peptides that give their immune system such potency, and many clues to their evolutionary history. It feels a little like hacking an operating system, except one that's considerably more complex than Windows (and is far less prone to crashing). Besides, it represents another opportunity to point out just how incredible these creatures actually are.

I look forward to being able to upload the genome into an artificial life simulator on my PC to recreate a digital Alligator sinensis. Maybe not in 2013, but I'm sure it's coming.

Here's the full paper published in Nature:

No comments: