The New Genomics “Hubble Space Telescope”
Researchers at the Centre for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain have developed a new type of genomics technology that can be used to investigate how species are related to each other, with a possibility of creating new drugs, foods, and materials at a much larger scale than ever before. Strategies to prevent extinction of species at risk could also be possible with this new technology that can be used to reconstruct the evolution of life over hundreds of millions of years.
Recently published in Nature Biotechnology, the nick-named “Hubble Space Telescope” of genomics is a new bioinformatics tool that can compare 1.4 million genetic sequences simultaneously through Multiple Sequence Alignments (MSA) to accurately look for similarities and differences in biological sequences. Currently popular MSA tools such as Clustal Omega can align up to 4000 sequences, a much lower throughput than the new tool. Other current MSAs cannot analyse more than 100,000 with accuracy. The new tool will use the sequences to predict how mutations within a gene may affect protein function in many different types of organisms and potentially yield new drugs, materials, and foods.
One huge challenge of our time is protecting the Earth’s biodiversity. This technology will be able to research how certain plant species have evolved genetically to be resilient to climatic change. In addition, strategies for saving species at risk of extinction may also be developed and could help in the reconstruction of the evolutionary process in life.
Principle investigator Cédric Notredame said “What we’ve made lets us dig 10 times deeper than what we’ve been able to do before, helping us to see hundreds of millions of years into the past. Our technology is essentially a time machine that tells us how ancient constraints influenced genes in a way that resulted in life as we know today, much like how the Hubble Space Telescope observes things that happened millions of years ago to help us understand the Universe we live in today.”
Using the new Hubble space telescope researchers are will be able to take full advantage of enormous datasets with superior speed and accuracy to that current of MSA tools. Therein lies the potential for new discoveries within ecological conservation and, hopefully, genomics more broadly.