The opossum genome: insights and opportunities from an alternative mammal.
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The strategic importance of the genome sequence of the gray, short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica, accrues from both the unique phylogenetic position of metatherian (marsupial) mammals and the fundamental biologic characteristics of metatherians that distinguish them from other mammalian species. Metatherian and eutherian (placental) mammals are more closely related to one another than to other vertebrate groups, and owing to this close relationship they share fundamentally similar genetic structures and molecular processes. However, during their long evolutionary separation these alternative mammals have developed distinctive anatomical, physiologic, and genetic features that hold tremendous potential for examining relationships between the molecular structures of mammalian genomes and the functional attributes of their components. Comparative analyses using the opossum genome have already provided a wealth of new evidence regarding the importance of noncoding elements in the evolution of mammalian genomes, the role of transposable elements in driving genomic innovation, and the relationships between recombination rate, nucleotide composition, and the genomic distributions of repetitive elements. The genome sequence is also beginning to enlarge our understanding of the evolution and function of the vertebrate immune system, and it provides an alternative model for investigating mechanisms of genomic imprinting. Equally important, availability of the genome sequence is fostering the development of new research tools for physical and functional genomic analyses of M. domestica that are expanding its versatility as an experimental system for a broad range of research applications in basic biology and biomedically oriented research.