The Vertebrate Genomes Project (VGP) reached a significant milestone this year, releasing a flagship study that included 16 high quality vertebrate reference genomes. The species represent the top level groups of animals with backbones, including the Canada lynx, platypus, greater horseshoe bat, zig-zag eel and Anna’s hummingbird.
Producing these high quality reference genomes without considerable time and expense has only been possible in the last five years. The VGP has taken advantage of enormous improvements in sequencing technologies, and is working to produce high quality reference genomes for approximately 70,000 vertebrate species globally.
The quality of the VGP genome assemblies has enabled new discoveries that have implications for biodiversity and conservation, as well as human health and disease. The first reference genomes of six bat species, for example, revealed selection and loss of immunity-related genes that may underlie bats’ unique tolerance to viral infection. This finding opens up new avenues of research that are particularly relevant for emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
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Research paper: Rhie, A., McCarthy, S.A., Fedrigo, O. et al. Towards complete and error-free genome assemblies of all vertebrate species. Nature 2021; 592: 737–746. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03451-0