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article imageKangaroo genome sequence becomes scientific milestone

By Abigail Prendergast     Aug 21, 2011 in Science
The kangaroo has always been seen as a fascinating and intriguing creature to many. Now scientists have picked apart the genetic coding of the tammar wallaby in hopes of discovering what makes these animals tick.
The kangaroo has always been a fascinating and unique creature, but it hasn't been until now that scientists sequenced their DNA. The first ever study of the animal's genetic coding started with the genome of the tammar wallaby. These small members of the kangaroo family are said to be the perfect specimens for research on the kangaroo species and marsupials in general.
"The tammar wallaby sequencing project has provided us with many possibilities for understanding how marsupials are so different to us," said Professor Marilyn Renfree of the University of Melbourne. The project, in which Renfree was one of the lead researchers, was conducted by a cartel of scientists from England, America, Japan, Germany and Australia.
The tammar is the smallest of all wallabies, and as a species has many interesting biological characteristics such as a year-long gestation period. For 11 of those 12 months, the fetus remains in suspended animation in the mother's womb. Once born, the young weigh a mere half a gram and spend the initial nine months of their lives in the mother's pouch. Researchers involved in the genome sequencing project are hopeful that mapping out the tammar wallaby's genes will give some insight as to how these animals live such fascinating lives and have such intriguing biological functions.
Scientists were not only able to pinpoint the genes responsible for the wallaby's trademark hop, but they also discovered the 1,500 smell detector genetics behind the highly delicate sense of smell tammar wallabies have. Genes that produce antibiotics in the mother's milk which fend off E. Coli and other dangerous bacteria were also found. Professor Renfree also said that what is learned from the tammar wallaby genome could possibly "be helpful in producing future treatments for human disease."
The premier kangaroo genome project "is a key milestone in the study of mammalian evolution," says Science Daily. The ancestors of kangaroos parted ways with other mammals at least 130 million years ago, and scientists hope that the DNA sequence is in some way a "living fossil of the early mammalian species from which humans evolved." In order to better comprehend this excursion of evolution, the sequence is accompanied by what is known as the "transcriptome" sequence. This symbolizes a database of sorts of how strongly every gene is "turned 'on' or 'off'" at various points of the tammar wallaby's life and in different sections of its body.
Studying the transcriptome will in turn allow a multitude of inquiries in regards to how the genes in kangaroos compare to their counterparts found in human beings.
The kangaroo is essentially the icon of Australia, featured on the nation's coat of arms, airline symbol and currency. The tammar wallaby is the third marsupial in history that has had its genome mapped out - the second being the Tasmanian devil. As such, the publication of a project like this is seen "as a landmark day in Australian science."
More about Kangaroo, Biology, Genome sequence, tammar wallaby