Comparing the genome sequences of several bats with that of a dolphin showed that these aerial and aquatic hunters depend on very similar sets of mutations for echolocation. That suggests that new traits can emerge through similar sequences of evolutionary steps, even in very different animals.
The world’s first two snake genomes have revealed the molecular foundations of some remarkable habits: how the Burmese python copes with just a few meals a year, for instance, and how the king cobra’s venom got so potent.
The high-resolution genome of the world’s most widely used cell line, “HeLa” cells, became available to researchers after the descendants of Henrietta Lacks, who died in 1951 but whose cancer cells live on today, gave their permission.
Genome scientists pulled off a sequencing tour de force this year, announcing in May that they had decoded the huge genomes of the Norway spruce (Picea abies, pictured) and white spruce (Picea glauca). Why spruces have all that extra DNA remains an intriguing question. An upcoming genome from the loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) could add to the puzzle.
Known as a “living fossil,” the scorpion Mesobuthus martensii has a genome containing more than 32,000 protein-coding genes, some 10,000 more than humans. Analyses of the scorpion genome has offered hints as to how it hunts at night and detoxifies poisons present in its prey.
Comparing the genomes of tigers, lions, and snow leopards (pictured) has given researchers an intriguing view of the genetic essence of big cats—how they digest massive quantities of meat and develop such powerful muscles, for example.
The nuclear and mitochondrial genomes of Amborella, which sits on the lowest branch of the family tree of flowering plants, are helping reconstruct what the ancestral angiosperm looked like. Researchers found that the mitochondrial genome had absorbed whole genomes from four other organisms.
The oldest sequenced genome to date comes from a horse hoof that was frozen in Canada’s permafrost and is between 560,000 and 780,000 years old. It showed that Przewalski's horse (pictured), a native of the Mongolian steppes, is truly wild and hasn't mingled genetically with domestic breeds.
A mitochondrial genome from a 300,000- to 400,000-year-old Neandertal ancestor found in Spain is three or four times older than the previous record-holder. But it only complicates the picture of how modern humans, Neandertals, and another species known as Denisovans evolved in the past half million years.