By: Cindy Weiss, CLAS Today
Ten years in the making, the sequencing of the tammar wallaby’s genome was published last week, and two UConn biologists in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are among the senior authors.
The tammar wallaby – a small kangaroo weighing about 30 pounds (the size of a large beagle) – is the first Australian marsupial to be sequenced. The genome sequence will provide scientists with new insights into the evolution of mammals, and into human reproduction and development. Because the kangaroo baby, known as a joey, develops outside the mother in a pouch, biologists can access information that could not be studied in utero on a human fetus.
One of the surprising findings in the sequencing was how many tammar wallaby genes are conserved, or look similar and seem to have similar roles, as human genes, even though humans and kangaroos diverged in their evolutionary path 150 million years ago, says Rachel O’Neill, professor of genetics and genomics in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, one of the principal investigators.
A tammar wallaby at about two weeks of age.
That makes the tammar an “awesome model,” she says, for studying the evolution of genomes and chromosome structure. Tammars also make good models for understanding more about mammalian reproduction, says Andrew Pask, associate professor of genetics and genomics in the molecular and cell biology department, also a principal investigator.
From this project, scientists will be able to learn more about milk production (the wallaby produces two different types of milk from four nipples); how mammals develop and grow; and how nutrition in early development can affect adult health outcomes, says Pask.