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LSU Museum of Natural Science to Play Major Role in Creation of “Genome Zoo”

Museum’s collection of genetic resources, largest of its kind, expected to provide approximately half of the specimens for project

In the most comprehensive study of animal evolution ever attempted, an international consortium of scientists plan to assemble a genomic zoo – a collection of DNA sequences for 10,000 vertebrate species, approximately one for every vertebrate genus. And thanks to its Museum of Natural Science, or MNS, and its collection of genetic resources, LSU is poised to play a major role in this record-breaking project.

Fred Sheldon, Museum of Natural Science curator and participant in the Genome 10Kproject, with the museum's bird collection.

The “Genome 10K Project,” launched in April 2009 at a three-day meeting at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has the goal of gathering specimens of thousands of animals from zoos, museums and university collections throughout the world and then sequencing the entire genome of each species to reveal its complete genetic heritage. Because LSU’s Museum of Natural Science is home to the largest collection of vertebrate tissue samples in the world, it will be responsible for providing up to half of the samples necessary to complete the massive research undertaking.

“Our vertebrate collection, the largest of its kind in the world, is the crown jewel of the Museum of Natural Science,” said Fred Sheldon, MNS curator and participant in the Genome 10Kproject. “We already act as a sort of international genetic library, lending our samples across the world as part of our contribution to the scientific community. The fact that such an impressive, ambitious research project is relying so heavily on LSU is just one more reason why folks in Louisiana should be proud of their flagship university.”

Calling themselves the Genome 10K Community of Scientists, or G10KCOS, the group outlined its proposal to sequence 10,000 to 15,000 vertebrate genomes in a paper published in the Nov. 5 issue of the “Journal of Heredity.”

Participants expect the Genome 10K Project to lay a foundation for understanding the genetic basis of recent and rapid adaptive changes within vertebrate species and between closely related species. The results can help conservation efforts by enabling scientists to predict how species will respond to climate change, pollution, emerging diseases and invasive competitors.

The consortium agreed to a set of guidelines for sample collection, including the types and volumes of tissues, recommendations for preservation and documentation, and adherence to national and international statutes regulating the collection, use, and transport of biological specimens. Where possible, specimens for each species include both males and females and reflect geographic diversity or diversity within localized populations.

Because the evolution of species living today involved ancient genetic changes still preserved in their DNA, the Genome 10K project can help uncover answers to longstanding questions about the history of evolution. Having full genomes at hand will enable detailed studies of base-by-base evolutionary changes throughout the genome.

The project was conceived by the paper’s three lead authors: David Haussler, professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz; Stephen J. O’Brien, chief of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at the National Cancer Institute; and Oliver A. Ryder, director of genetics at the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conservation Research and adjunct professor of biology at UC San Diego.

In addition to lead authors and LSU’s Sheldon, other coauthors of the paper who also served as committee chairs include F. Keith Barker of the University of Minnesota; Michele Clamp of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Andrew J. Crawford of Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia; Robert Hanner of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, University of Guelph; Olivier Hanotte of the University of Nottingham; Warren E. Johnson of the National Cancer Institute, Laboratory of Genomic Diversity; former LSU professor Jimmy A. McGuire of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley; Webb Miller of Pennsylvania State University; Robert W. Murphy of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; William J. Murphy of Texas A&M University; Barry Sinervo of UC Santa Cruz; Byrappa Venkatesh of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Singapore; and Edward O. Wiley of the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, University of Kansas.

For more information about the Genome 10K project, visit For more information about the LSU Museum of Natural Science and its genetic materials collection, visit  


Ashley Berthelot | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
November 2009