UW Scientists on Team That Has Sequenced Genome of Evolutionary Interest

November 19, 2010

University of Wyoming researchers are members of a team that has sequenced the entire genome structure of an organism that is seen as a model for understanding rapid evolution.

The article, "Plasticity of animal genome architecture unmasked by rapid evolution of pelagic tunicate," was published Thursday, Nov. 18, in the journal Science Express. The entire genome sequence of Oikopleura dioca, a tunicate, was determined. The genome sequencing project was an international collaborative effort involving research groups in Europe, Canada, Japan, UW, the universities of Iowa and Oregon and the National Institutes of Health.

"The genome is extremely divergent from other multicellular animal genomes, showing hallmarks of rapid evolution," says David Liberles, associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biology. The researchers at UW analyzed the evolutionary turnover of duplicate genes in this organism, which he says is "among the contributing factors to the rapid divergence of the genome. It is seen as the main mechanism by which genes can change functions."

Snehalata Huzurbazar, associate professor in the Department of Statistics, adds that the contribution of the UW researchers was also important because "statistical analysis of the duplicate gene data accounting for data-generating mechanisms is new in this research area. Statisticians are infrequently co-authors on articles in Science."

Other UW scientists contributing to the research are Ph.D. students Anke Konrad, molecular biology, and Sarabdeep Singh, statistics.

Found mainly on the ocean floor, tunicates are commonly known as sea squirts and sea pork. Tunicates apparently evolved in the early Cambrian period, beginning around 540 million years ago. Despite their simple appearance, tunicates are closely related to vertebrates, which include fish and all land animals with bones.

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