Conserved Genome Regions Linked to Extinction Risk in Mammals, According to Zoonomia Project Study
A recent study conducted by the Zoonomia Project has found that mammals with fewer genetic changes at conserved sites in the genome are at greater risk for extinction. The project, which has been cataloging the diversity in mammalian genomes by comparing DNA sequences from 240 species that exist today, has identified conserved genomic regions across species that highlight areas that may be biologically significant but do not code for proteins. The research suggests that at least 10% of the human genome is functional, a tenfold increase on the portion that codes for proteins. The genetic variants that could be linked to different human diseases, including cancer, have been highlighted by the data. Furthermore, through genome analyses, we have gained insight into unique characteristics of mammals, including their ability to hibernate, their remarkable brain size, and their heightened sense of smell.
The study, published in the journal Science, is part of a series of articles released by the Zoonomia Project, a consortium of scientists from around the globe that is using the largest mammalian genomic dataset in history to determine the evolutionary history of the human genome in the context of mammalian evolutionary history. Their primary objective is to enhance the identification of the genetic foundation for traits and illnesses in individuals and other organisms.
The researchers identified regions of the genomes that are most unchanged (conserved) across mammalian species and millions of years of evolution—regions that are likely biologically important. In addition, they discovered the genetic underpinnings behind unique characteristics in mammals, such as the capacity to hibernate and detect subtle odors from great distances. They identified the species that are at a high risk of extinction and also highlighted the genetic variations that could be responsible for causing both rare and common human diseases.
According to the statement, conserved genome regions are primarily those that have changed slowly over time—primarily those involved in embryonic development or even RNA expression regulation. On the contrary, areas that underwent frequent changes facilitated the evolution and improved interaction of animals with their environment, including immune system functioning and skin growth.
The genetic diversity of 240 mammalian species, which encompasses more than 80% of mammalian families, has been recorded by the Zoonomia Project. By sequencing and aligning the genomes, the team has identified conserved genomic regions across species, highlighting areas that may be biologically significant but do not code for proteins.
The researchers found that nearly 10 percent of the human genome is conserved across species. More than 98 percent of the studied mammalian species shared approximately 4,500 conserved gene elements. The regions that have been conserved the most, as compared to random fluctuations in the genome, are mostly linked to embryonic development and the control of RNA expression. An animal's interaction with its environment was influenced by regions that went through frequent changes, which could affect its immune responses and the development of its skin.
13 studies in Science published The Zoonomia Project, which utilizes comparative genomics to uncover the mechanisms behind exceptional abilities in certain species and gain a deeper understanding of the human genome's impact on health and illness.
The study's authors explain that even having just one reference genome per species could help scientists identify at-risk species, as less than 5% of all mammalian species have reference genomes, though more work is needed to develop these methods.
Lindblad-Toh, the scientific director of vertebrate genomics at the Broad expressed great enthusiasm towards sequencing mammalian species. We are thrilled to explore novel approaches to comprehend genome evolution and human disease by utilizing this data, as well as collaborating with fellow researchers.
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