"These mobile elements were once thought to be so small that they had no function," says Batzer. "But, in reality, they cause insertions and deletions which can lead to genetic diseases in humans and they are also involved in the creation of new genes and gene families."
Grants from the National Institutes of Health focused on aspects of genetic disease.
"This is a huge genetic step. We're learning a lot about mammalian gene regulation and immune systems, which has huge implications for disease susceptibility research," says Batzer. "We hope to, in time, identify the underlying causes and methods of disease prevention in humans."
Better insight into monotreme biology, or the biology of mammals that lay eggs, provides a "baseline" for understanding immunity, reproduction and chemoreception, which can further the study of the evolution of human biology.
"In other words, it provides the big picture' as compared to the genomes of other animals more similar to humans that have a more focused window," says Batzer.
In addition, the platypus was chosen as the subject of this study in large part due to its strange appearance, but other selection factors include the species' endangered status in its only indigenous habitat, Australia.
One interesting finding for the researchers is that several of the populations seem to have been geographically separated for a long time. Based on an analysis using mobile elements, the population on the island of Tasmania seemed genetically far distanced compared to other platypus populations from the mainland of Australia.
This was one of the largest platypus population genetics studies ever conducted.
Platypuses are extremely shy by nature and only a few
|Contact: Bobbie Mixon|
National Science Foundation