... how I wonder what genes you share with us!
It's a funny animal, the platypus. It's a mammal, but it lays eggs. And look at that oversized duck bill (which apparently "houses an electrosensory system used when foraging for food underwater", how crazy is that?); now that's a face only a mother could love. That poor sap must have the worst time ever in high school. Oh, but it isn't as defenseless as it seems... the males possess "hind leg spurs that can deliver venom powerful enough to wound territorial competitors during mating season or cause excruciating pain in other mammals, including humans". Ouch. Seriously, if there was God creator of all things, the platypus would be the clinching proof that he's a total stoner.
I've often wondered about this strange wee Aussie beastie. What kind of convoluted evolutionary path could have led to that particularly bizarre configuration for a mammal? Don't get me wrong, I think it's an awesome animal. I like odd; it's interesting. But it's also very confusing.
Well, I just realized that we have the means to understand it a bit better. The complete genome sequence of a female platypus named Glennie was published last year, and it's proving to be a mine of information. By comparing this genome with those of mammals and reptiles that have already been sequenced, it's possible to track down genetic features from ancient reptilian ancestry (like the venom it has in its hind spurs), and retrace in some detail how the modern platypus may have evolved. It's also important for understand how mammals in general evolved, because the platypus is a member of a group called the monotremes that appears to have been the first offshoot of the mammalian lineage.
The press release has a bunch of really interesting insights for the curious.
I love comparative genomics. I'll stick with doing it on my beloved bacteria and their plasmids because they totally rule, but I have to admit that eukaryote genomics are pretty cool. Pretty cool indeed.