In early March 2004, an international research team released a draft of the first bird genome to be sequenced. It comes from the Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus), native to Southeast Asia, and the ancestor of the world’s domesticated chicken flocks.
According to Richard Wilson of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, most of the sequence of the billion or so nucleotides in the Jungle Fowl’s 39 chromosomes is available to researchers in a free database. The chicken joins an exclusive club of sequenced organisms, including humans, dogs, mice, rats, puffer fish, sea squirts, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, rice, and various microbes.
As well as being an important source of protein, the chicken has been a very important source of scientific data that has improved our understanding of human health. Jerry B. Dodgson of Michigan State University in East Lansing has described the chicken as a “premier non-mammalian vertebrate model organism.” It is a common experimental animal for embryologists. The first tumor-causing virus identified in any organism was the Rous sarcoma virus in chickens and more doses of Marek’s Disease vaccine are made and administered than any other vaccine, human or otherwise (Marek’s Disease vaccine is the only effective vaccine for a tumor virus in existence). Immunologists found the first distinctions between T cells and B cells while studying the chicken immune system.
As well as being an important source of protein, the chicken has been a very important source of scientific data that has improved our understanding of human health.
The recent announcement that a group of researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have deciphered the genome sequence of the standard lab rat has brought great excitement to the biomedical research community. Almost every known human-disease gene has a rat counterpart. Using the rat genome researchers have already identified previously unrecognized human-disease genes. For example, investigators found a rat gene that causes a kidney disorder and subsequently confirmed that mutations in the human version of the gene produce a similar disease in people.
Rats have played a major role in our understanding of human biology and have helped in the development of new and improved drugs. Areas in which the rat has contributed to the advancement of medical research include cardiovascular diseases, psychiatric disorders, diabetes, surgery, transplantation, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and many others. Knowledge of the genome sequence will further enhance these research areas and more.
The unraveling of the genome sequences of more and more organisms, mammalian and otherwise, allows researchers to compare these sequences with the human genome. This is a powerful tool in the understanding of the genetic component of human health and disease.
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