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article imageEssential Science: Sequencing Rudolph’s Genome

By Tim Sandle     Dec 11, 2017 in Science
A seasonal science column this week: Chinese scientists have successfully sequenced and analyzed the genome of Rangifer tarandus (reindeer), which is the only domesticated species in the deer family Cervidae.
The aim of the research, released coincidentally or otherwise as the Holiday season edges closer, has a serious intent: to provide a resource for gaining greater understanding of the processes of evolution, domestication, animal husbandry, and adaptation to extreme environments, of the reindeer. Such research is important, in terms of conservation, as global warming leads to gradual rises in temperature and disruption to the natural habitat of the reindeer.
For centuries people have dependent upon reindeer for food, clothing, and shelter. Today caribou remain a source of food in North America and the Sami people (so-termed 'Laplanders') depend on reindeer herding and fishing, and to pull pulks. A further interesting feature is with reindeer milk, which is far richer in protein and has less lactose than cow's milk. For these reasons, in addition to protecting an at risk species, biological research is required to help to conserve reindeer numbers. Although some reindeer are found in large numbers, some of its subspecies are very rare and some have become extinct.
Reindeer in Norwegian arctic region showing distinct pink coloration at tip of nose.
Reindeer in Norwegian arctic region showing distinct pink coloration at tip of nose.
Kia Krarup Hansen
Circumpolar distribution of reindeer
The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is a species of deer found in many parts of the world, following a circumpolar distribution (that is native to arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal, and mountainous regions throughout northern Europe, Siberia, and North America). Reindeer herd size varies greatly, and reindeer also vary in colour and size according to geographical distribution.
The new study has been performed by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, located in Changchun and the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Xi'an. For the study, the scientists used a blood sample from a two-year-old, female reindeer which resided as part of a domesticated herd owned by nomadic Ewenki hunter-herders found in the Greater Khingan Mountains in China.
Simplier genome than a cow
The Chinese researchers took the blood and sequenced and annotated the genome. They then proceeded to compare the reindeer genome with genomes of related species. The reindeer genome has a genomic size of 2.6 GB (2.6 billion base pairs). This is smaller than that of humans, cows, and goats; it is, however, similar to that of a sheep.
Every autumn  the reindeer are taken to their winter pasture in the plains by their owners  the Sami...
Every autumn, the reindeer are taken to their winter pasture in the plains by their owners, the Sami -- formerly called Lapps -- the only people authorised to herd reindeer in Sweden
Jonathan Nackstrand, AFP
The lead researcher, Professor Zheping Li notes, as quoted by Technology Networks, that his analysis has identified "335 reindeer-specific genes that are likely to aid in understanding the special biological characteristics of reindeer. These could also be very useful in understanding the evolution of the reindeer as well as the entire Cervid family in future comparative genomics studies between reindeer and other ruminants."
Bovine evoluntionary tree updated
The genomic insights have enabled the Chinese scientists to develop an evolutionary tree using the new genome adding in previously identified genomes of members of the bovine family. This suggests that reindeer, cattle, and goats separated from a common ancestor approximately 29.6 million years ago (the Oligocene epoch of the Paleogene period).
The research has been published in the journal GigaScience, under the title “Draft genome of the Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus).”
Essential Science
Gouldian Finches are some of the more colorful members of the passerine family of birds. Note the di...
Gouldian Finches are some of the more colorful members of the passerine family of birds. Note the distinct placement of the toes, with three forward and one back.
Nigel Jacques
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we looked at a fascinating development in biology: evolution in action, with finches of one species being observed evolving into another. What made this poignant, was the fact that this was occurring on the island group where Charles Darwin undertook his pioneering studies on natural selection.
The week before we presented research designed to improve detectability of malaria. Here researchers have developed a new test for the causative parasite. The test uses the latest nanoscience technology.
More about Genome, Reindeer, rudolph the red nosed reindeer, Biology, Genetics
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