Fish Genome Has Many Uses

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Dustin Wcisel (left) and Dr. Jeff Yoder (left)

EMC faculty member Jeff Yoder and his graduate student Dustin Wcisel played important roles in the recently published genome sequencing of the spotted gar, an important addition adding to our knowledge of fish genomics.  The compete genome of the spotted gar was published online by Nature Genetics this Monday (March 7, 2016) in a paper that is the collaboration of 61 co-authors and greatly expands our understanding of important questions about evolution as well as providing a very useful new tool for studying the function of genes in other species, including humans.

Dr. Yoder, an established expert in innate immune function related gene expression in fishes spearheaded the team of comparative immunologists who analyzed the immune genes encoded by the gar genome. The group included NCSU Functional Genomics graduate student, Dustin Wcisel, and experts at the Department of Pediatrics, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, St. Petersburg, Florida, US; the Department of Evolutionary Studies of Biosystems, SOKENDAI (Graduate University for Advanced Studies), Hayama, Japan, and the Molecular Genetics Program, Benaroya Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, USA.

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Spotted Gar (photo by SONY DSC)

Gar are special fish in part because they are from a more ancient lineage that did not duplicate their genomes as has occurred in the evolution of most other fish species. Having the sequenced genome of the gar as a reference makes research comparisons to other fish genomes and even humans easier.  The lack of accumulated additional copies of genes in the gar genome also makes it potentially more reflective of an essential collection of genes.

The spotted gar is a powerful new model system for studying vertebrate genomics, evolution, and development because of its important phylogenetic position as a ray-finned fish outgroup as well as its accessibility for developmental studies.  Gars have enamel bearing teeth and ganoid scales making them a useful model for understanding vertebrate mineralization.  They also may have the ability to see UV light.  In the realm of immune function, Dr. Yoder’s team has found that for one class of immune receptors that recognize pathogens, some of the gar receptors are more similar to tetrapod (human) receptors while others are more similar to teleost receptors.