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The opossum genome sequence casts light on evolution, immunity and disease

Genome Research is publishing three papers related to the genome of the gray short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica, a small, nocturnal marsupial found in South America. The papers will appear online on May 10, concomitant with the publication of the opossum genome sequence in the journal Nature.

1. A fresh start for immune-related genes

Like all marsupials, opossums are born without a functioning immune system; they develop immunological tissues, organs, and the ability to produce antibodies outside the shelter of the mother's body. The genome sequence of the opossum--the first for any marsupial--provided Dr. Katherine Belov and her colleagues the opportunity to compare immune-related genes in opossums with those in humans.

Belov's team aligned 1528 human immune-related proteins to the opossum genome, and found that the genetic constituents of the human and opossum "immunomes" were quite similar. "Given the similarities, opossums would make an ideal model organism for developmental immunology studies in mammals, including humans," says Belov.

Contact:
Katherine Belov, Ph.D.
University of Sydney, Australia
kbelov@vetsci.usyd.edu.au
+61-2-9351-3454

Reference:
Belov, K., Sanderson, C.E., Deakin, J.E., Wong, E.S.W., Assange, D., McColl, K.A., Gout, A., de Bono, B., Speed, T.P., Trowsdale, J., and Papenfuss, A.T. 2007. Characterization of the opossum immune genome provides insights into the evolution of the mammalian immune system. Genome Res.
doi:10.1101/gr.6121807

2. New functions for ancient DNA

Transposable elements (TEs) are mobile, repetitive DNA sequences that can provide insight into evolutionary processes. "The opossum genome has been bombarded by TEs," explains Dr. Andrew Gentles, the first author on a paper that describes the first comprehensive survey of TE
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Contact: Maria Smit
smit@cshl.edu
516-422-4127
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
9-May-2007


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