New Zealand’s most devastating predators’ genomes sequenced

July 8, 2020 11:51 am

DNA codes broken for stoat and ship rat.

July 8, 2020 – The DNA secrets of the Predator Free 2050 programme’s most wanted species have been revealed.

The complete genome of the stoat is now available to researchers on the US-based National Center for Biotechnology Information genome database, hard on the heels of the ship rat genome.
The reference genomes were created by teams of Kiwi scientists working with international collaborators.

The genome sequencing of the stoat (Mustela erminea) was led by Dr Andrew Veale, a scientist based at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research.
“Stoats will be one of the trickiest pests to eradicate across Aotearoa, and this genome provides great opportunities to understand their biology, and to create tools to assist conservation”, says Dr Veale.

The assembled stoat genome is over 2.4 billion DNA bases long, with over 20,000 identified protein-coding genes. This new genome is one of the highest quality vertebrate genomes ever produced, with nearly gapless complete chromosomes assembled and annotated.

“This sets us up for the breakthrough research we will need to realise the Predator Free 2050 goal,” says Professor Dan Tompkins of Predator Free 2050 Limited, which co-funded the research as part of its Science Strategy. “Knowing the genetic code of these devastating predators is an important step towards finding their Achilles heel.”

The project was co-funded by the Biological Heritage Science Challenge and involved collaboration with scientists from the Vertebrate Genome Project, based at The Rockefeller Institute, and the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

Dr Fiona Carswell, Chief Scientist at Manaaki Whenua, says that the underpinning data provided by the genome will be invaluable in helping to achieve predator-free status for New Zealand. “This shared work in defining the stoat genome is a stepping-stone in our ongoing research into species-specific toxins, and a fantastic example of collaboration across the science sector.”

Biological Heritage Science Challenge co-director Dr Andrea Byrom says “the new genomes will build understanding of the origins and dispersal of predators, inform the development of novel control mechanisms such as species-specific toxins and help assess the potential of gene technologies.”

In March, sequencing of the ship rat (Rattus rattus) genome was completed through an Australia-New Zealand collaboration involving University of Auckland, Genomics Aotearoa and CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency.

The high-quality ship rat genome is similarly expected to become the international reference genome for the species.


Photo credit: Patrick Garvey

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