Taonga genome websites as on-line hubs for NZ species

By Grant Jacobs 26/07/2015

I’d like to add a few words to Peter Deardon’s call for a 100 Taonga Genomes project to sequence the genomes of iconic New Zealand species.

One aspect of genome projects, at least well-supported ones, is that websites developed to present them, these can serve as focal hubs for information about those species, that are more than ‘just’ the genome sequence itself, drawing together other work on the particular species, and closely related species. These hubs could in principle also be extended to public engagement.

Most of the major genome projects have databases that can be queried about the genome, the genes with it, what is known about those those, with links to the biological activities they are involved in. Other work that in any way relates to the genetics, biochemistry, or molecular biology of the species can be linked to the data.

As just one example of many, FlyBase is the home of all things Drosophila – fruit flies have long been study animals for geneticists. We might not aspire to something on quite their scale! — FlyBase stores an enormous amount of data; it’s one of the bigger resources internationally — but we could develop something more suited to local interests.

We might, for example, draw in genetics work related to conservation efforts, developmental biologists understanding how wings grow, heritage knowledge about the species, and so on.

There is scope to also allow members of the public see something of what is being done. It’s one of the things I find striking about the genome projects to date: despite the enormous amounts of public funds devoted to them, there are relatively few public-friendly ways to look at genome research. The database resources openly available to all, and anyone can visit these, but they’re designed for scientists. It’s worth considering if there are opportunities for better public engagement.*

A related possibility might be opportunities for teachers and their classes, for example.

A number of New Zealand scientists are drawing up a draft proposal for the 100 Taonga Genomes concept Peter has suggested. I’m currently coordinating the draft document: if you’re a researcher with an interest in this, please feel free to contact me.


* The raw data is quite technical, which might provide challenges, but I think it’s worth thinking about.

Some genome-related articles on Code for life:

Kumara are transgenic

Metagenomics-finding organisms from their genomes

Boney lumps, linkage analysis and whole genome sequencing

Autism genetics, how do you copy?

Is a genome enough? (Not Just DNA #1)

What does a chromosome look like? (Not Just DNA #2)

Epigenetics and 3-D gene structure