Mapping Alligator Genomes Is Risky Business

BY Rebecca Jacobson  May 21, 2012 at 4:15 PM EDT


Science Nation looks for answers in crocodile DNA.

Collecting DNA samples isn’t easy when your subject could snap off your hand with one bite, but it’s a risk David Ray — a researcher at Mississippi State University — and his team are willing to take, as they wrestle alligators and crocodiles in hopes of finding answers in these animals’ genes.

They are mapping alligator and crocodile genomes, making these primeval creatures some of the first reptiles to have their DNA fully sequenced. Ray hopes their genetic blueprint will help scientists identify the most genetically diverse members of the species and breed them.

“The more we can understand about the way their genomes are put together the more likely we are to understand how we can keep them from going extinct,” Ray said.

Ray’s work goes beyond the swamp and down to the bat cave, where he studies how bats’ “jumping genes” copy themselves and move around in the DNA sequence. Understanding how that works could lead to better gene therapies, NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien said in his latest report for the National Science Foundation’s* Science Nation.

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of the NewsHour.