Thursday, November 8, 2007

Biologists Assemble Fly mtDNA for Landmark Genome Project

Brown University biologist David Rand and members of his lab have made a major contribution to a groundbreaking genome sequencing project - single-handedly assembling the mitochondrial DNA sequences of seven species of fruit fly.

The work, appearing in Nature, is part of an international research effort to catalogue the DNA sequences of 12 species of Drosophila, or fruit fly, a critical and common laboratory model used to study human development, genetics, and evolution. Results of the "Drosophila Dozen" project are the complete sequences of both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from the 12 species of fly - a data set that gives researchers the unprecedented ability to compare related species and how they changed over time.

About 150 researchers from around the world, collectively known as the Drosophila 12 Genomes Consortium, came together to sequence, assemble and analyze the genomes, all from closely related species that range from Drosophila yakuba, a red-eyed variety found on the African savannah, to Drosophila mojavensis, a cactus-dweller from the Sonoran desert.

David Rand, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown, along with postdoctoral research associate Kristi Montooth and laboratory technician Dawn Abt were the only researchers in the consortium to assemble mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, sequences. In the sequencing process, DNA is extracted, chopped into bits, then analyzed to determine the order of base pairs. These bits must then be put back together, or assembled, an exacting process that involves piecing together billions of base pairs in proper order using special computer software...

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