"What Cheetahs, Armadillos and Whales Revealed About Human DNA"

"Over a decade, scientists compared the genomes of 240 mammals to see how humans are the same — and different."

"It has been 20 years since scientists put together the first rough draft of the human genome, the three billion genetic letters of DNA tightly wound inside most of our cells. Today, scientists are still struggling to decipher it.

But a batch of studies published in Science on Thursday has cast a bright light into the dark recesses of the human genome by comparing it with those of 239 other mammals, including narwhals, cheetahs and screaming hairy armadillos.

By tracing this genomic evolution over the past 100 million years, the so-called Zoonomia Project has revealed millions of stretches of human DNA that have changed little since our shrew-like ancestors scurried in the shadows of dinosaurs. These ancient genetic elements most likely carry out essential functions in our bodies today, the project found, and mutations within them can put us at risk of a range of diseases.

The project’s strength lies in the huge amount of data analyzed — not just the genomes, but experiments on thousands of pieces of DNA and information from medical studies, said Alexander Palazzo, a geneticist at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the work. “This is the way it needs to be done.”"

Carl Zimmer reports for the New York Times April 27, 2023.

Source: NYTimes, 05/01/2023