Giving Thanks for Turkey Science

What does the domesticated Turkey have in common with the mouse, rat, chimpanzee and Human? Give up? The answer is that its genome can now be added to the long list of species that have had their genomes sequenced thanks to advances in Next Generation Sequencing.

Earlier this year, a team of 34 scientists published their findings regarding the Sequencing of Meleagris gallopavo (i.e domesticated turkey) in PLoS Biology. Not surprisingly, the team found that a comparative analysis of the turkey, chicken, and zebra finch genomes revealed that although the Turkey is indeed genetically different from the Chicken it contains many genes that are unique to the avian lineage.

When comparing these three species by genomic alignment, 92.39% of the turkey genome, 91.92% of the chicken genome and 81.51% of the zebra finch genome align. Furthermore, avian genomes have been relatively stable to rearrangements during the course of avian evolution with the chicken and turkey being much closer to each other in the evolutionary process than the rhesus macaque and the human. These findings are supported by common personal experience. Although it may be difficult to detect differences between some people and rhesus monkeys, this tends to be a much easier task than discerning between a roasted chicken and a roasted turkey which are both covered in cranberry sauce.

Whatever the case may be, understanding the turkey genome will help improve meat quality, animal health and disease resistance. According to turkey breeders (see video below), the science of turkey breeding has already given us birds that are fifteen pounds bigger than they were four decades ago. Nonetheless, increasing public demand for antibiotic-free meat has required scientists to come up with genetic tools for studying alternate ways of disease resistance. Hence, the sequencing of the turkey genome coincides well with the laws of supply and demand and places turkey scientists at the forefront of economic homeostasis.

So when your sitting around the dinner table this coming Thanksgiving, be sure to tell your family why you are thankful for next generation sequencing and Turkey science.

Dalloul RA, Long JA, Zimin AV, Aslam L, Beal K, Ann Blomberg L, Bouffard P, Burt DW, Crasta O, Crooijmans RP, Cooper K, Coulombe RA, De S, Delany ME, Dodgson JB, Dong JJ, Evans C, Frederickson KM, Flicek P, Florea L, Folkerts O, Groenen MA, Harkins TT, Herrero J, Hoffmann S, Megens HJ, Jiang A, de Jong P, Kaiser P, Kim H, Kim KW, Kim S, Langenberger D, Lee MK, Lee T, Mane S, Marcais G, Marz M, McElroy AP, Modise T, Nefedov M, Notredame C, Paton IR, Payne WS, Pertea G, Prickett D, Puiu D, Qioa D, Raineri E, Ruffier M, Salzberg SL, Schatz MC, Scheuring C, Schmidt CJ, Schroeder S, Searle SM, Smith EJ, Smith J, Sonstegard TS, Stadler PF, Tafer H, Tu ZJ, Van Tassell CP, Vilella AJ, Williams KP, Yorke JA, Zhang L, Zhang HB, Zhang X, Zhang Y, & Reed KM (2010). Multi-platform next-generation sequencing of the domestic turkey (Meleagris gallopavo): genome assembly and analysis. PLoS biology, 8 (9) PMID: 20838655

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