In “Genome analysis of the platypus reveals unique signatures of evolution,” W. C. Warren and R. K. Wilson and (maybe 99?) of their colleagues published a preliminary sequence of the genetic structure of the DuckBill Platypus, that fascinating animal that walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…no, wait: That fascinating animal that lays eggs like a fowl, secretes milk like a mammal, has venom in its bite like a snake, and forages underwater like an electric fish. What a wonderful case to compare to the genomes for other species.
We present a draft genome sequence of the platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus. This monotreme exhibits a fascinating combination of reptilian and mammalian characters. For example, platypuses have a coat of fur adapted to an aquatic lifestyle; platypus females lactate, yet lay eggs; and males are equipped with venom similar to that of reptiles. Analysis of the first monotreme genome aligned these features with genetic innovations. We find that reptile and platypus venom proteins have been co-opted independently from the same gene families; milk protein genes are conserved despite platypuses laying eggs; and immune gene family expansions are directly related to platypus biology. Expansions of protein, non-protein-coding RNA and microRNA families, as well as repeat elements, are identified. Sequencing of this genome now provides a valuable resource for deep mammalian comparative analyses, as well as for monotreme biology and conservation.
Smart move, folks; it’s no wonder your report got the cover image. I really like science news like this. And, though I can’t be sure, it may be that the entire article, which appeared in Nature, is available under a Creative Commons license. Knowledge should be free. Here’s a link to the full htmlversion; if that doesn’t work, one may have to go to the Web site for Nature and drill down through the issue of 8 May 2008. Also, note that one can download an MP3 featuring this research and a video interview with a couple of the authors.