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(L to R): Kyl Myrick, Rob Kulathinal, Beverley Matthews, Lynn Crosby, Kenneth Wiley, Bill Gelbart, Jerry Antone, Sian Gramates Susan Russo and AJ Bhutkar

On Thursday, November 8, there was a birth announcement that has been two years in the making: the initial publications on the comparative genome analysis of the entire DNA sequences of 12 species of fruit fly (genus Drosophila). The announcement will include two main papers in Nature describing the community effort.  One paper (Kellis et al.) focuses on the identification of evolutionary signatures for several different classes of functional elements within the Drosophila melanogaster genome.  The other (Drosophila 12 Genomes Consortium) focuses on understanding gene and genome evolution using whole genome datasets.  In addition, publication of these papers has been coordinated with the near-simultaneous publication of more than 40 companion papers in several different journals, notably Nature, GENETICS, Genome Research, PLoS, BMC, Molecular Biology & Evolution, Genome Biology and others.  This work comprises the research efforts of literally hundreds of scientists for the past 2-3 years.

The Harvard MCB FlyBase group (Bill Gelbart, PI, Lynn Crosby, Bev Matthews, Andy Schroeder, Susan St. Pierre, Sian Gramates, Rob Kulathinal, Margo Roark, Ken Wiley, Jr., Kyl Myrick, Jerry Antone, AJ Bhutkar, Susan Russo and Peili Zhang) has been an integral part of the analysis coordination of these efforts.  Several members of this group are co-authors on the main papers, as well as three companion papers that are in press and two others that are still in preparation.  A number of surprising findings, only revealed through this kind of comparative genome analysis, were discovered.  “First, more than 100 genes are expressed in ways that violate typical genetic code dogma, such as stop codon readthrough and shifting of reading frame in the middle of a translated segment”, says Dr. Bill Gelbart.  Secondly, “a species that, during its evolution, has dropped the use of selenocysteine (the so-called 21st amino acid) during translation (Drosophila willistoni)” was discovered.

In addition to these findings, the initial analyses lay the foundation for future studies that will dissect the functional elements of the genomes in exquisite detail and that will help understand how ecological specialization is reflected in genome evolution.  Finally, this work presents a model for selecting a cluster of closely related species for whole genome sequencing, allowing better understanding of the gene products and other functional elements encoded by the genome of a species of biological or practical importance.

Full Text of Publications (for Harvard Community):