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The benefits of genome sequencing

Two of the main reasons for sequencing plant and animal genomes are to fight diseases and increase crop and livestock quality. Since the early 2000s, INRA has been at the forefront of such genome sequencing efforts.

All living cells have a “skeleton” made up of microfilaments and microtubules, which determines cell shape and structure. © INRA, GRANDJEAN Olivier
By Pascale Mollier, translated by Jessica Pearce
Updated on 06/09/2017
Published on 01/24/2016

Sequencing animal genomes to improve livestock production and human health

Efforts to sequence the genomes of livestock began in 2004 with the chicken (1). The chicken is not only mass-produced for its meat, it is also a model species used in immunology and developmental biology research.

The dairy cow followed in 2009. The use of high-throughput genotyping tools made it possible to identify the genes responsible for the decline in herd fertility that has been observed for more than 30 years. One direct benefit has been the replacement of low-fertility herds.

In 2012, the pig, another major livestock species, had its turn. Its genome was fully characterized by a research consortium of which INRA is a member. As a result, it will now be possible to carry out much more targeted genetic breeding in this species. Expectations are also high in the field of human medicine: pigs carry a number of variants of genes associated with certain diseases in humans, such as obesity, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, the recent sequencing of the genome of the Texel, a Belgian sheep breed, has made it possible to breed animals with larger muscles whose high-quality meat is flavorful.

Sequencing plant genomes to improve crop quality and disease resistance

There have also been major benefits derived from sequencing the genomes of crops.

2000: Sequencing of the genome of Arabidopsis thaliana, a model flowering plant species
2007: Sequencing of the grape genome—the result has been improved disease resistance (e.g., to different types of mildew), higher yields, and greater variety diversity
2012: Sequencing of the genome of the tomato, a model for other Solanaceae species (e.g., the potato and the bell pepper)
2012: Sequencing of the button mushroom genome—as a consequence, enzymes involved in detoxification and the breakdown of organic matter have been identified and the species’ role in carbon cycling has been clarified
2013: Sequencing of the barley genome—the result has been improved disease resistance and reduced pesticide use
2014: Sequencing of the rapeseed genome—new, disease-resistant varieties of higher quality have been developed for use in making oil and oil cakes
(1) Chicken (2004), cow (2009), horse (2009),pig (2012), duck (2013), rabbit (2014), Texel sheep (2014), trout (2014)

DNA helix. © rolffimages.Fotolia, rolffimages

Obtaining the DNA sequence is only the first step

Characterizing an organism’s DNA sequence is just the initial step in a longer process that will ultimately decode the genome. Next, it is necessary to identify the genes encoded by the DNA, map their locations, and determine their genomic roles. Significant research efforts are required because the process involves such tasks as genetic and physical mapping and an examination of the transcriptome and proteome. International collaborations have been established to create shared “toolboxes,” which participating research teams can apply to their specific study systems.