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Friday, May 9, 2008

What's Our Connection to the Platypus?

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus ) is endemic to Australia and one of nature's oddest creatures, seemingly assembled from the spare parts of other animals. The semi-aquatic monotreme is a venomous, duck-billed mammal that lays eggs, nurses its young and occupies a lonely twig at the end of a sparse branch of the vertebrate evolutionary tree.

The ancient, patchworked platypus is a relatively unchanged animal that may be a scientific boon for researchers, who are learning a lot from its recently decoded genome about mammalian gene regulation and immune systems, which could have huge implications for human disease susceptibility research.

Professor Jenny Graves, at Australian National University (ANU), Canberra explains the findings, in an interview with Anna Buckley from BBC World Service's Science in Action programme.

This mix-and-match animal is more than just an oddity, though. Researchers report in Nature that its genome provides important clues into how mammals, birds and reptiles evolved from a common ancestor some 315 million years ago. And researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine report in Genome Research that they linked the evolution of a gene in the old platypus to a mutated version in humans responsible for moving the testes outside of the body and into an external pouch, or scrotum.

An international team of researchers that sequenced and analyzed the genome of a wild female platypus named Glennie, which lives in southeastern Australia. Among its findings: The platypus' genome is two thirds the size of the human genome and contains 18,500 genes. (The human genome comprises 20,000 to 25,000 genes.) Eighty-two percent of the animal's genes are found in other mammals. The genome is organized into 52 chromosomes (tightly packed structures of DNA stored in a cell's nucleus), 10 of which determine the animal's sex. (In humans, there are 46 chromosomes—23 pairs—and only two (X and Y) are sex-determining.)

Genome analysis of the platypus reveals unique signatures of evolution


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