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Genetic mapping with aid of chickens

13 May 2010

The development of our domestic animals and crops was the most important innovation in human history. However, the genetics behind this development remains completely unknown. A major stride toward understanding the process has now been taken by researchers using new technology at Uppsala University to map the genome of eight different varieties of domesticated hens and their ancestor, the southeast Asian jungle hen.

“Our studies of hens and other domesticated animals serve as models for understanding the fundamental principles of how evolution occurs at the molecular level in nature, or how human evolution took place,” explains Leif Andersson, professor of functional genomics at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology and coordinator of the study from Uppsala University.

“The great advantage of using domesticated animals is that we can crossbreed them and use the tools of genetics to map with great precision just what genetic changes are related to a specific characteristic. Our new study makes the chicken a hot model organism both for research in both evolutionary biology and biomedicine, where scientists are seeking to understand the function and importance of genes in diseases.”

The DNA sequence of the hen was published five years ago. This was accomplished by analyzing an individual chicken. The project cost about SEK 100 million to perform and involved an international consortium of researchers. In the current study the researchers have used a modest budget to analyze the genomes of eight different kinds of domesticated hens and the red jungle hen, the original ancestor of the tame chicken.

“This illustrates the revolution that has taken place in biological and medical research as technologies for mapping genes have made incredible advances. Projects we could only dream of a few years ago are now fully feasible,” says Carl-Johan Rubin, who is a member of Leif Andersson’s research team.

The scientists have exploited the possibilities offered by new DNA technology for use in biological research. DNA sequencing was carried out at the technology platform Uppsala Genome Center, while storage and analysis of the enormous amounts of data were done at the Uppsala University computing center UPPMAX.

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