Marsupial Genome Reveals Insights Into Mammalian Evolution
Research on the marsupial genome promises to reveal unparalleled insights into mammalian evolution
The genetic code of marsupials has now been documented for the first time. An international team led by Kathy Belov from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science published an analysis of the marsupial genome in the open access journal PLoS Biology. The paper details the evolution of an important cluster of immune genes known as the MHC using available genome sequences of the gray, short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica), a marsupial found in South America.
“Mapping the opossum MHC has allowed us to deduce what the MHC of ancestral mammals looked like,” says Belov. "We think it contained several different types of immune genes in a single complex. These genes are no longer found in a single complex in any living animal but are scattered over various chromosomes. We have named this complex ‘The Immune Supercomplex.’”
Belov et al. found that while the size and complexity of the opossum MHC is closer to eutherian (placental) mammals, its organization is closer to fish and birds. “The clues we unearthed by looking at different genomes are also helping us to understand how our own intricate immune system evolved from the relatively simple immune system seen in lower vertebrates such as birds and fish,” says Belov.
“Interest in marsupial and monotreme genomes comes from their important positions in vertebrate evolution,” says Belov. (Monotremes are egg-laying mammals, represented today by only the platypus and echidna.) “Comparing genes of placental mammals, such as the human and the mouse, is not very efficient because their genes can be so similar it is hard to pinpoint regions that remain unchanged because they serve a particular purpose. In contrast, comparison of distantly related genes, such as the chicken and human, can be difficult, because the sequences are so different.”
“Marsupial and monotreme genomes fill this gap. They are easily aligned with placental mammal genomes, yet are different enough to pinpoint regions that have important functions and therefore have been conserved for long periods of time. The monotremes split off from other mammals 210 million years ago. The remaining marsupials split from the main (placental) group about 180 years ago.”
Significantly, the authors also found data supporting the idea that there was an ancient relationship between the MHC and another critical component of the immune system, the natural killer complex (NKC), which contains natural killer (NK) cell receptor loci. This “immune supercomplex,” which no longer exists in modern genomes, performed the MHC functions in ancestral mammals. ”Understanding the immune system of marsupials and monotremes will help us to conserve our native species,” Belov says.
The paper is the result of international collaboration between Australian National University (ANU), The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, the University of New Mexico, Texas A&M, the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research and the University of Pittsburg and is published in the highly regarded journal PLoS Biology.
Paul Ocampo | alfa
The most recent press releases about innovation >>>
Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:
At the productronica trade fair in Munich this November, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be presenting Laser-Based Tape-Automated Bonding, LaserTAB for short. The experts from Aachen will be demonstrating how new battery cells and power electronics can be micro-welded more efficiently and precisely than ever before thanks to new optics and robot support.
Fraunhofer ILT from Aachen relies on a clever combination of robotics and a laser scanner with new optics as well as process monitoring, which it has developed...
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
A warming planet
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
New technique promises tunable laser devices
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...