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Platypus Genome

May 26, 2008

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the duck-billed platypus, a gold mine for genetic research.


Piecing together the platypus puzzle. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The duck-billed platypus looks like it’s been stitched together from spare parts, which has baffled scientists for centuries. Now, they’ve finally cracked its genetic code, which could help them understand other mammals too. Geneticist Wes Warren of the Washington University School of Medicine explains that the platypus is one of only five surviving species of ancient egg-laying mammals called monotremes. They were the first mammals to branch off from their reptile-like ancestors.

WES WARREN (Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine):
And we really needed to fill that hole in our phylogenetic tree to better understand the emergence of mammal-specific traits.

Those include lactation, sweat glands, and a sophisticated brain area called the neocortex. By studying primitive versions of those genes in the platypus, researchers hope to uncover new insights into gene function in all mammals. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.