Animal researchers are creating complex maps involving tens of thousands of animal species. The maps won’t depict where animals live or how they migrate. But many scientists believe these genome maps could one day help prevent disease and save animals from extinction.
Genome maps aren’t like road maps. Instead of directing a traveler from point A to point B, they help scientists locate information within genomes.
A genome is all of the genetic material of a living thing. Genomes contain complete operating instructions—DNA, genes, and chromosomes—for plants, animals, humans, and viruses. This complete information includes what an organism looks like, what its weaknesses are, where its parts belong, how they work, and so on.
There’s a genome for every species—people, cows, corn, influenza. Besides that, every individual creature within a species has its own genome. So every dog in your neighborhood has its own genome. The same goes for every lion in Africa, shark in the ocean, and apple tree on Earth. Every human being—all 7.6 billion of them—has his or her own unique genome. (There’s just one exception: identical twins.) And within those genomes lie the similarities and differences found among members of the same species.
What a mighty God we love and serve! Think of the vast differences among species and individuals. “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure.” (Psalm 147:5) God the Creator knows every single part of every single genome of every single organism.
Scientists working on the Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP) hope to construct 66,000 genome maps. That’s one for every species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish on Earth. (Not individual animals, just the species. Whew!)
The mammoth job could easily take 10 years, says Sadye Paez, VGP program director. But scientists believe the genome maps will be worth the work. They could help researchers better understand how genes work, what they should look for as they monitor health and disease resistance, and how an animal copes with environmental changes.
Researchers started slowly. They mapped 15 genomes. These ranged from a newly discovered turtle from Mexico to a flightless parrot native to New Zealand.
Paez believes giving scientists access to genome maps could help save rare species, like the Canada lynx. That’s one of the animals mapped for the VGP project. She describes the project as an effort to “essentially communicate a library of life.”
List of the 15 Animals with New Genome Maps
Greater horseshoe bat
Pale spear-nose bat
Goode’s Thornscrub tortoise
Male zebra finch
Female zebra finch
Tire track eel