In the past few months, we’ve received announcements regarding the mapped genomes of wheat, of apples, and even the repulsive human body louse. Now, researchers from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have sequenced 90 percent of the genome of Meleagris gallopavo, which you may know as the domestic turkey.
The researchers used “next generation” technology at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) labs in Maryland, and at Virginia Tech University's Bioinformatics Institute, to simultaneously produce millions of DNA sequences. While ARS concentrated on shorter DNA fragments, Virginia Tech went after longer strands, all of which were subsequently interwoven by new computer programs.
Physical, comparative and genetic maps assembled at Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota were then used to match the DNA sequences to the turkey’s 33 chromosomes. Ultimately, the project ended up involving 68 scientists from 28 international institutions. The whole thing took less than a year, apparently at a fraction of what it cost to sequence the chicken and cow genomes, and the results are now publicly available online.
So, does this mean that we can anticipate a legion of Frankenturkeys? Hopefully not. What the USDA does hope is that – through selective breeding – bigger, meatier turkeys can be produced.