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An international team has reconstructed the genome organization of the earliest common ancestor of all mammals. The reconstructed ancestral genome could help in understanding the evolution of mammals and in conservation of modern animals. The earliest mammal ancestor likely looked like this fossil animal, Morganucodon, which lived about 200 million years ago. Image via Wikipedia by user Funkmonk, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Revealing the Genome of the Common Ancestor of All Mammals

Every modern mammal, from a platypus to a blue whale, is descended from a common ancestor that lived about 180 million years ago. We don’t know a great deal about this animal, but the organization of its genome has now been computationally reconstructed by an international team of researchers. The work is published Sept. 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Our results have important implications for understanding the evolution of mammals and for conservation efforts,” said Harris Lewin, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, and senior author on the paper.

The researchers drew on high-quality genome sequences from 32 living species representing 23 of the 26 known orders of mammals. They included humans and chimps, wombats and rabbits, manatees, domestic cattle, rhinos, bats and pangolins. The analysis also included the chicken and Chinese alligator genomes as comparison groups. Some of these genomes are being produced as part of the Earth BioGenome Project and other large-scale biodiversity genome sequencing efforts. Lewin chairs the Working Group for the Earth BioGenome Project.

The reconstruction shows that the mammal ancestor had 19 autosomal chromosomes, which control the inheritance of an organism’s characteristics outside of those controlled by sex-linked chromosomes, (these are paired in most cells, making 38 in total) plus two sex chromosomes, said Joana Damas, first author on the study and a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis Genome Center. The team identified 1,215 blocks of genes that consistently occur on the same chromosome in the same order across all 32 genomes. These building blocks of all mammal genomes contain genes that are critical to developing a normal embryo, Damas said.

Read the full press release by Andy Fell here. Read the full publication on PNAS.

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