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Scientists sequence endangered Tasmanian devil's genome
Date:6/27/2011

ugh a handshake. It would eradicate our species very quickly." The scientists explained that if a number of healthy Tasmanian devils were kept in zoos and other facilities in "protective custody" until the tumor ran its course and disappeared in the wild, then the captive animals could be released back into their former habitat and the population could begin to grow anew. "However, it's not just a matter of scooping up a few individuals at random and locking them away," Miller explained. "Our team developed a smarter, more calculated approach: We asked ourselves, which individuals would be the best candidates for 'protective custody,' and what criteria would we use to make those determinations? We soon realized that the answer was to compile genetic data and to analyze it in novel ways."

The team approached the extinction problem on two fronts. The first was to sequence the complete genomes -- 3.2 billion base pairs each -- of two individual Tasmanian devils. One was a male called "Cedric," who had a natural resistance to two strains of DFTD, but succumbed after being infected with a different strain of the disease last year. The other was a female called "Spirit," who had contracted the vicious cancer in the wild. In addition, the scientists sequenced the genome of one of Spirit's tumors. Because the two animals had originated in the extreme northwest and southeast regions of Tasmania, respectively, they represented the maximal geographic spread of the species -- a measure that is used as an approximation of genetic diversity. The researchers then began an analysis of the genomic data from the two animals, and of the genetic characteristics of the tumor. Using these data, they created a model that could determine which individual animals should be selected for captive breeding programs, such as the ones currently underway in Tasmania and on mainland Australia.

Schuster explained that the genetic diversity of the Tasmanian devil population is low t
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Contact: Barbara Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

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