Charting ever-changing genomes

La Jolla, CA -- Instead of immutable proprietary software, any species genetic information resembles open source code that is constantly tweaked and optimized to meet the users specific needs. But which parts of the code have withstood the test of time and which parts have undergone rapid evolutionary change has been difficult to assess.

An international collaboration by researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the University of Chicago, and the Max-Planck Institute for Developmental Biology developed a simple method to comb whole genomes for all the software fixes and security patches accumulated over time. In a first trial run, the scientists catalogued the genetic variations in 23 strains of the mustard weed Arabidopsis thaliana that were collected from the wild all over the world.

Our study represents one of the first whole genome scans for levels and patterns of genetic variation within a species, says Joseph R. Ecker, Ph.D., professor in the Plant Biology Laboratory and director of the Salk Institute Genomic Analysis Laboratory, who led the current study published in last weeks online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. It reveals the regions that are currently targeted by natural selection or have been so during the evolutionary past.

In an independent study the collaborators -- this time led by Detlef Weigel, Ph.D., director of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tbingen, Germany, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute -- went through the genomes of 20 different strains of Arabidopsis thaliana with an even finer-toothed comb, allowing them to determine the exact nature of the changes. The findings of the second study are published in the July 20 issue of the journal Science.

We found that one out of 10 genes is very different, says Weigel. This plasticity is truly surprising for a genome thats very streamlined and unlike bigger genomes doesnt con

Contact: Gina Kirchweger
858-453-4100 x1340
Salk Institute

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