Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Serpents' Sequence

Scientists recently mapped the full genomes of snakes for the first time!

Actually, 2013 has been a big year for whole-genome sequencing in reptiles.

But let’s back up a step: What is whole-genome sequencing?

A genome is the entirety of an organism’s genetic material – all of its DNA.  Genes – small sections of DNA – code for proteins.  One gene might tell your body how to make a certain type of protein, and that protein might help build cells, or catalyze chemical reactions, or do pretty much anything else your body needs.  If you think of genes as the body’s instructions, then the genome is the entire blueprint.

Back in the early 1990’s, a group of scientists from various institutions in several countries embarked upon a legendary task: to describe and record the entire human genome – every gene in the body.  The Human Genome Project took over ten years to complete, but finally in 2003, these scientists published the full human whole-genome sequence for the first time - a full list of about 20,500 genes.  The Human Genome Project was one of the most monumental achievements of recent science, and it has led to incredible advancements in our understanding of human development, evolution, and especially genetic diseases.