As the human genome sequence neared completion several years ago, geneticists eagerly began discussing which other organisms to sequence — partly to see which DNA regions are similar across species and therefore likely to serve critical functions. But these discussions raised an important, and potentially expensive, question: How many species need to be sequenced to know whether evolution has conserved a given stretch of DNA?
In an article published in the January 2005 issue of PLoS Biology, Sean R. Eddy, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, describes a mathematical model that offers detailed answers to this question. “We shouldnt make these decisions based on seat-of-the-pants intuitions,” Eddy said. “Its important to lay out the case that these genomes really do have tremendous value for analyzing the human genome sequence.”
According to Eddys model, critical tradeoffs are associated with deciding which species to sequence. More species need to be compared to tell if just one or a few DNA bases are conserved, compared to what is needed to identify longer stretches of conserved DNA. Also, the more closely related a group of organisms is in evolutionary terms, the more comparisons need to be made to tell if a given DNA region is conserved across species.
Jim Keeley | EurekAlert!
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