It's one of the most audacious projects in biology today--reading the entire genome of every bird, mammal, lizard, fish, and all other creatures with backbones, i.e., all vertebrates. And now comes the first major payoff from the Vertebrate Genome Project (VGP): near complete, high-quality genomes of 25 species, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator Erich Jarvis, PhD, with scores of coauthors report April 28, 2021, in the journal Nature. The article serves as the cover story of the April 29, 2021 print issue of Nature (image). The sequenced species include the greater horseshoe bat, the Canada lynx, the platypus, and the kākāpō parrot (one of the first high-quality genomes of an endangered vertebrate species). The Nature paper also lays out the technical advances that let scientists achieve a new level of accuracy and completeness and paves the way for decoding the genomes of the roughly 70,000 vertebrate species living today, says HHMI Investigator and study coauthor David Haussler, PhD, a computational geneticist at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). "We will get a spectacular picture of how nature actually filled out all the ecosystems with this unbelievably diverse array of animals." The open-access Naure article was published online on April 28, 2021 and is titled “Towards Complete and Error-Free Genome Assemblies of All Vertebrate Species” (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-021-03451-0). Together with a slew of accompanying papers, the work is beginning to deliver on that promise. The project team has discovered previously unknown chromosomes in the zebra finch genome, for example, and a surprise finding about genetic differences between marmoset and human brains. The new research also offers hope for saving the kākāpō (photo) and the endangered vaquita dolphin from extinction.
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