Just about every week, it seems, scientists publish the unique DNA code of some creature or plant. Just in February, they published the genome for the strawberry, the paper mulberry tree, the great white shark and the Antarctic blackfin icefish.
They also announced that, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign, they’d produced the genome of Lil BUB, a female cat with a large internet following.
That followed a notable advance in January: an improved genome for the axolotl, a salamander renowned for regrowing severed limbs and other body parts.
Scientists have been uncovering genomes for quite a while. The first from an animal — a worm — came in 1998. Now, the technology has advanced far enough that scientists last year announced a project to produce the genomes for all life forms on Earth other than bacteria and single-celled organisms called Archaea. They called it a “moonshot for biology.”
But what’s the point of uncovering new genomes?
For scientists, a detailed look under the hood of their favorite organism provides a foothold for learning the deepest secrets of their objects of attention, it leads to discoveries about how life works, and possibly how to prevent disease.
Take the mosquito. Late last year, researchers published a much-improved description of the DNA code for a particularly dangerous species of mosquito: Aedes aegypti, notorious for spreading Zika, dengue and yellow fever.
That achievement came from analyzing the DNA of 80 mosquito brothers. They were born in Leslie Vosshall’s lab at Rockefeller University in New York, where thousands of mosquitoes swarmed in cages recently as Krithika Venkataraman was trying to make some more.