Gene research ‘links’ human to wallaby
SURPRISING new research into sequencing the first kangaroo genome – that of the tammar wallaby – has discovered a gene that may have assisted early human development.
The research also reveals genes that might have been involved in the kangaroo’s characteristic hop and its unusual reproductive system.
While at first glance there might be little to connect the tammar wallaby with humans, other than they are both mammals that lactate their young, scientists from the University of Melbourne and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have found we share thousands of genes.
Studying the wallaby has revealed genes and proteins involved in marsupial immunity, development, lactation and reproduction.For instance, there are genes that make marsupials’ very own antimicrobial agents, which are secreted in the pouch to protect the young.
Scientists are interested in how these work and whether they could potentially form the basis of a new class of antibiotics for humans.
“While many of the genes in the tammar sequence are shared with humans, the study revealed a new human gene that we didn’t even know humans had,” said lead author Dr Tony Papenfuss (PhD).
The study, a collaboration between Australian and international researchers, also looked at how strongly wallaby genes are switched on and off at different stages of development and by parts of the body.
The researchers hope this will eventually give us an insight into gene activity in humans and how this might affect human health and development.
Genome Biology 2011, online 19 August