Building a Dinosaur (Genome)
Reconstructing the chromatin organization of a common ancestor yields insight into dinosaur (and other) genomes
Most pathologists – and indeed, many members of the general public – are familiar with the human genome. Those involved in research may know their way around numerous other genomes, too: the rat, yeast, the humble nematode. But how many of us can say we know what a dinosaur genome looks like? Until recently, the answer has been: no one. Now, though, a research group at the University of Kent has brought us one step closer to Jurassic Park by using common pathology and translational research tools to reconstruct the potential genome organization of theropod dinosaurs, such as raptors and tyrannosaurs (1).
How did they manage it? First, they used bioinformatics and molecular cytogenetics to extrapolate the most likely genomic structure of the most recent common ancestor of all diapsids (animals with two temporal fenestra, such as lizards, turtles, or birds). Next, they inferred the most likely genomic events throughout the organisms’ lineage – from that ancestor to the dinosaurs and then to modern birds. Interestingly, the researchers noted that, although there was plenty of intrachromosomal rearrangement, very little interchromosomal exchange occurred throughout the evolution, meaning that the genome was simultaneously stable and open to a high level of phenotypic diversity.
Does this new knowledge mean we’re ready to begin building our own dinosaurs? Not quite yet – but it does contribute significantly to our understanding of how both they and modern organisms evolved, and how they were able to survive and thrive for so long.
- RE O’Connor et al., “Reconstruction of the diapsid ancestral genome permits chromosome evolution tracing in avian and non-avian dinosaurs”, Nat Commun, 9, 1883 (2018). PMID: 29784931.