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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 12, 2007

UI biologists collaborate in genomic study of genetic, evolutionary processes

Three University of Iowa biologists are among some 100 scientists who contributed to a study, published in the Nov. 8 issue of the journal Nature, that is one of the most comprehensive genomic studies of its kind and will greatly aid scientists conducting basic research in disease, genetics and many other fields.

The study involved a comparative analysis of the genomes of 12 species of Drosophila (fruit flies) and illustrated how the rates and patterns of genetic change can vary significantly among closely related species, thereby indicating mechanisms of evolutionary change, according to assistant professors Bryant McAllister and Josep Comeron and assistant research scientist Ana Llopart, all in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Department of Biological Sciences and the Roy J. Carver Center for Comparative Genomics.

"The study's genome sequences will add to the formidable genetic tools that have made the fruit fly a pre-eminent model for animal genetics and help drive fundamental research on mechanisms of development, cell biology, genetics, disease, neurobiology, behavior, physiology, and evolution," McAllister said. "The Drosophila species chosen for sequencing represent a small subset of the diversity among flies, yet we identified many genetic changes that may underlie differences in the ecology and behavior of the various species."

Said Comeron, "This paper summarizes years of collaborative work among many laboratories interested in understanding how genes and genomes evolve. The analysis of complete genomes of 12 related species of fruit flies allows us to investigate a wide variety of evolutionary processes with an unprecedented level of detail. Ultimately, these '12 genomes' will provide an exceptional insight into the relative contribution of natural selection on protein evolution, gene gain/loss, the evolution of 'junk' DNA, etc."

Of the 12 Drosophila species involved in the study, the genomes of 10 were presented for the first time, perhaps reflective of the fact that the study represents a four-year effort of so many individuals.

"Although the actual sequencing of these 10 genomes took less than one year thanks to modern DNA sequencing technologies, three additional years were required to give meaning to this massive amount of genetic information through the development of new analytical and theoretical tools," Llopart said. "Future studies involving non-Drosophila genomes will benefit from having these new tools."

In their paper, the researchers note that the study has provided a powerful means for answering questions -- not only about evolution, but also about the function of Drosophila genome features -- and that it has raised more questions than it has answered.

"Because much of this rich and extraordinary comparative genomic dataset remains to be explored, we believe that these 12 Drosophila genome sequences will serve as a powerful tool for gleaning further insight into genetic, developmental, regulatory and evolutionary processes," they conclude.

The complete Nature article, "Evolution of genes and genomes on the Drosophila phylogeny," can be found at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Josep Comeron, Department of Biological Sciences, 319-335-0628,; Bryant McAllister, Department of Biological Sciences, 319-335-2604,; Gary Galluzzo, University News Services, 319-384-0009,