Culminating a three-year research project, 115 scientists from around the world report in the Oct. 12 issue of the journal Science a "gold mine" of data on a tiny green alga called Chlamydomonas, with implications for human diseases.
The single-celled Chlamydomonas, a slimy organism that grows in soil and ponds, has approximately 15,000 genes, and scientists now know 95 percent of the sequence of its genome. Several years ago, they knew less than 2 percent.
"It's like having a dictionary of genes," said lead author Sabeeha Merchant, professor of biochemistry and associate director of UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute, who has studied the green alga for 20 years. "We know the words and now we want to learn to talk. Without the dictionary, you would be stuck and couldn't learn how to speak or write. We went from having a 200-word vocabulary to a 14,250-word vocabulary. Each of us is trying to learn how to put the words and sentences together in our own research programs.
"Having the genome sequence available fast-forwards our research by 10 or 20 years and allows us to make progress by leaps and bounds," she said. "The genome sequence opens the door for us to access all the genes and target our research on subsets of genes. What was just a dream 10 years ago, we have now accomplished."
Chlamydomonas' genes are likely to contain a wealth of data about the common ancestry of plants and animals, according to the international teams of scientists who compared its genes to those of plants and humans and other animals. The scientists report that the alga has maintained many genes that were lost during the evolution of land plants, has others associated with functions in humans and has numerous genes whose functions are unknown but which are associated with critical metabolic processes.
The alga turns out to be remarkably complex.
"Its single cell does much of the biochemistry that more complex organisms do," Mer
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University of California - Los Angeles