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After dinosaurs, mammals rise but their genomes get smaller
Date:7/27/2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Evidence buried in the chromosomes of animals and plants strongly suggests only one group -- mammals -- have seen their genomes shrink after the dinosaurs' extinction. What's more, that trend continues today, say Indiana University Bloomington scientists in the first issue of a new journal, Genome Biology and Evolution.

The scientists' finding might seem counter-intuitive, given that the last 65 million years have seen mammals expand in diversity and number, not to mention dominance in a wide variety of ecological roles. But it is precisely their success in numbers that could have led to the contraction of their genomes.

"Larger population sizes make natural selection more efficient," said IU Bloomington evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch, who led the study. "If we are correct, we have shown how to bring ancient genomic information together with the paleontological record to learn more about the past."

And the present. Lynch says the data he and his colleagues analyzed suggest human genomes are still undergoing a contraction -- though you shouldn't expect to see noticeable changes in our chromosomes for a few million years yet.

Lynch's group examined the genomes of seven mammals, eight non-mammalian animals and three plants, specifically with regard for the long terminal repeat (LTR) sequences of transposable elements, a curious sort of "jumping" genetic sequence initially dropped into genomes by viruses. IU School of Informatics (Bloomington) bioinformaticians Mina Rho and Haixu Tang oversaw the survey of mammalian and non-mammalian genomes.

Transposable elements often lose their functionality soon after insertion but nevertheless are disturbingly common. In the human genome, for example, transposable elements constitute as much as 45 percent of an individual's total DNA. Long terminal repeat sequences, part of that figure, make up about 8 percent of humans' total DNA.

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Contact: David Bricker
brickerd@indiana.edu
812-856-9035
Indiana University
Source:Eurekalert

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