Called "phylogenetic shadowing," this technique enables scientists to make meaningful comparisons between DNA sequences in the human genome and sequences in the genomes of apes, monkeys, and other nonhuman primates. With phylogenetic shadowing, scientists can now study biological traits that are unique to members of the primate family.
"Now that the sequence of the human genome has almost been completed the next challenge will be the development of a vocabulary to read and interpret that sequence," says Edward Rubin, M.D., director of the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) for the U.S. Department of Energy, and Berkeley Lab's Genomics Division, who led the development of the phylogenetic shadowing technique.
"The ability to compare DNA sequences in the human genome to sequences in nonhuman primates will enable us in some ways to better understand ourselves than the study of evolutionarily far-distant relatives such as the mouse or the rat," Rubin adds. "This is important because as valuable as models like the mouse have been, there are many physical and biochemical attributes of humans that only other primates share."
Using phylogenetic shadowing, Rubin and his colleagues were able to identify the DNA sequences that regulate the activation or "expression" of a gene that is an important indicator of the risk for heart disease and is found only in primates. The results of this research are reported in a paper published the February 28 issues of the journal Science. Co-authoring the paper with Rubin were Dario Boffelli, Dmitriy Ovcharenko, Keith Lewis and Ivan Ovcharenko of Berkeley Lab, plus Jon McAuliffe and Lior Pachter, of the University of California at Be
Contact: Lynn Yarris
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory