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Singapore scientists join international study of 10,000 vertebrates' genomes

The Singapore laboratory that deciphered the DNA codes, or genomes, of the famed fugu (or pufferfish) and elephant shark, has joined The Genome 10K Project, an international effort to build an invaluable repository of DNA sequences on 10,000 species of animals for conducting comparative studies on a scale that currently can not be achieved.

Participating in The Genome 10K project, described in a paper published in the Nov. 5, 2009 issue of the Journal of Heredity, are 70 leading scientists at major zoos, museums, research centres and universities in North and South America, Europe, Australia as well as Asia. They will create a collection of tissue and DNA samples and then sequence and analyze the animals' genomes to reveal the complete genetic heritage of the 10,000 species.

The results will enable scientists worldwide to understand the genetic basis of adaptive changes that occur in vertebrates and predict how animals respond to climate change, pollution, emerging diseases and competition. In addition to aiding conservation efforts, this data will enable researchers to compare animal and human genomes, and reconstruct the evolutionary history of the human and other vertebrate genomes.

"The most challenging intellectual problem in biology for this century will be the reconstruction of our biological past so we can understand how complex organisms such as ourselves evolved," said Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner, M.D., who co-heads Singapore's Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB) comparative genomics laboratory, which will participate in The Genome 10 K Project.

"Genomes contain information from the past they are molecular fossils and having sequences from vertebrates will be an essential source of rich information," added Dr. Brenner, who also is Scientific Advisor to the Chairman of Singapore's A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research), which oversees 14 biomedical sciences, and physical sciences and engineering research institutes, and seven consortia and centres at Biopolis and Fusionopolis, as well as their immediate vicinity.

One of the initiators of the Genome 10K project, David Haussler, Ph.D., Professor of Biomolecular Engineering at University of California, Santa Cruz, said, "For the first time, we have a chance to really see evolution in action, caught in the act of changing whole genomes. This is possible because the technology to sequence DNA is thousands of times more powerful now than it was just a decade ago, and is poised to get even more powerful very soon."

Byrappa Venkatesh, Ph.D., who heads IMCB's comparative genomics lab and is one of the chairpersons of the Genome 10K committee, said, "This project will not only generate sequences of all important vertebrate genomes that we were contemplating to sequence, but also will give us access to the latest sequencing technologies and sequence analysis tools for genomic studies in Singapore."

IMCB Executive Director Neal Copeland, Ph.D., added, "We are delighted and honored that IMCB is participating in this momentous project, which is a fine example of the international nature of science. Following the successful revelation of the fugu genome in 2002, IMCB is looking forward to making even more important contributions to the international field of genomics through the Genome 10K project and remains committed to using the tools of modern science to make important, basic discoveries that will advance the understanding of the human genome and diseases."


Contact: Yunshi Wang
Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore

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