22 January 2006

A Mammoth Open Genome Project

Open genomics just goes from strength to strength. As this press release reports, there are now over 100,000,000,000 bases (DNA letters) in public databases, all of which may be freely downloaded.

This represents sequences from some 165,000 different organisms. Nearly all of these are living today, but there is an interesting move to sequence extinct animals too. The secret is to find enough ancient DNA, sufficiently well-preserved, that it can be sequenced.

Recently, an important breakthrough in this area was achieved by sequencing nearly 30 million bases of a woolly mammoth. As the relevant paper reports, the sequence identity between this set and the DNA of today's African elephant is a remarkable 98.55%. This means that we are not so far from being able to reconstruct most of the mammoth genome, using the African elephant DNA as a kind of scaffolding. The obvious next step would be cloning a mammoth, using modern-day elephants as egg donors and surrogate mothers.

Do not try this at home.

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