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NIH skate choice follows MDI Bio Lab white paper


With the National Institutes of Health announcing recently that the genome of the skate is going to be sequenced, the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory is poised to play an important role in this large-scale project.

The decision to fund the sequencing of the skate was in response to a proposal submitted by MDIBL, the Genome Sequencing Center of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Benaroya Institute in Seattle. Approval came from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of the National Institutes of Health.

The skate is one of 11 strategically selected non-mammalian organisms determined by a NHGRI panel to have the greatest potential to fill crucial gaps in human biomedical knowledge. According to Dr. Mark S. Guyer, Director of NHGRI’s Division of Extramural Research, "The most effective approach we currently have to identify the essential functional and structural components of the human genome is to compare it with the genomes of other organisms."

It has been shown that most human genome sequences originated long before humans themselves. Consequently, scientists will use the genomes of non-mammalian animals to learn more about how, when and why the human genome came to be composed of certain DNA sequences, as well as to gain new insights into organization of genomes. In addition, many of these organisms can shed light on human disease by systematically discovering causes compared to finding them by chance.

The skate, a member of the elasmobranch family, is one of the oldest vertebrate organisms, dating back 450 million years. Elasmobranchs (sharks, skates and rays) were one of the first primitive vertebrate species to develop a jaw, an important step on the evolutionary ladder.

For more than 100 years the MDIBL has served as a world leader in elasmobranch research. As one of only four Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Science Centers in the United States designated by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, MDIBL has been home to scores of scientific experts utilizing sharks and skates to better understand human physiology, toxicology, immunology, stem cell and cancer biology, and neurobiology.

Dr. David Barnes, Senior Scientist and Associate Director of the Center for Marine Functional Genomic Studies at MDIBL said, "MDIBL is one of only a handful of research institutions in the world that specializes in elasmobranch research. Scientists here have been using the skate as a model since the early 1920’s and are largely responsible for development of the skate as a model organism for human disease. The result is that we have a high concentration of information and expertise on elasmobranch organisms and are well positioned to support this important initiative."

Data from the skate sequencing project will be integrated into MDIBL’s Comparative Toxicogenomics Database, an interactive database designed to assist scientists worldwide in comparing genetic information from more than 40,000 species in an effort to better understand genetic susceptibility to environmental toxins and disease.

"The decision to sequence the skate genome is an enormous step forward in the emerging field of marine functional genomics," said John N. Forrest, Jr., MD, Director of MDIBL. "Elasmobranch genomes hold many important clues to understanding the genes involved in development and disease. All of us at MDIBL are very pleased that the tremendous research potential of the skate will now be realized."

Grady Holloway | EurekAlert!
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