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And the winner is…

What might you … and the scientific community … think was the most interesting DNA in the world?

That was the question posed first to a panel tasked with deciding which entrants in the plant and animal category would reach the finalist stage to receive funding for complete genomic sequencing for 2017, and then to public voters to decide which of five finalists would take top honors.

The idea behind the Pacific Biosciences Plant and Animal SMRT Grant Program is to “enable the scientific community to submit their genome or transcriptome projects for a chance to win PacBio sequencing.”1

According to its developers, “SMRT Sequencing … harnesses the natural process of DNA replication and enables real-time observation of DNA synthesis. With this unique technology, we equip innovative scientists and deliver the results needed to drive genetic discovery.”2

And that kind of science ain’t cheap. Most researchers budget at least $5,000 for that sequencing — and hope for grants to allow the research to proceed.

Making it available for interesting projects is the goal of the Plant and Animal SMRT Grant Program, co-sponsored by — among others — Computomics and the Arizona Genomics Institute — where researchers submit their proposals, five finalists are selected by a committee of scientists, and community voting then decides the winner.

Now… in 2015, the winner was resurrection grass — a grass species found in Africa and India that can regrow once water becomes available again even after extreme drought.3

And in 2016, the winner was a metal-devouring plant — a particular variety of an herb found in China that extracts cadmium, zinc, and lead from soils and so can clean up polluted soil.4 It beat out fireflies, earthworms, alpacas and a spiny mouse for funding.

And in 2017 the candidates were:

The explosive bombardier beetle, which explosively blasts boiling hot, noxious chemicals from its abdomen at its predators.5

The pink pigeon, billed as the dodo’s cousin, an endangered bird with just 10 wild bird by 1990 and only hundreds even today.6

The sea slug, a Mediterranean variety called solar-powered because it swipes solar-panels called chloroplasts from its food, stores them in its body and so can so through lean times when food isn’t available.7

The temple pit viper, a snake found in South East Asia that’s notable for both its unusual venom and its extreme sexual dimorphism (males and females being very different in size and color).8

The desert dingo, a native of the Australia desert that may be an intermediate step between the wild wolf and domestic dogs both to test how canines transitioned from wild to domesticated and to help reverse the decline of the pure dingo.9

Given the fact that community voting decides the winner, The Legal Genealogist finds it no surprise that the snake didn’t win. In the “see how much I know” category, however, note that the snake actually came in a very very close second.10

And I’m not so sure I could have found myself voting for a sea slug or a beetle either.

I would have guessed that it was a sprint to the finish for the pink pigeon and the dingo… and I’d have been right about only one of those. (The pigeon came in dead last.)11

Clearly, I suspect, it was the story behind one of the submissions that took it over the top.

It seems that three wild dingo pups were abandoned in the Australian desert in 2014. When found near the Strzelecki Track in central Australia, the tiny three-week-old pups were dehydrated, emaciated, covered with parasites — in short, close to death. The couple who found them got them veterinary help, nursed them back to health, and raised them.

Named Sandy, Eggie and Didi, the now-adult animals are purebred desert dingoes, a rarity these days where there’s so much interbreeding between dingoes and dogs.

It’s the DNA of one of those dingoes, the female Sandy, that’s proposed to be tested.

And, given both the sweet story of the rescue of the pups and the fact that they’re just plain cute,12 it’s Sandy for the win.

Whoever said DNA — or science — was boring?


SOURCES

Images: Barry Eggleton, Pure Dingo

  1. Sequencing for Everyone,” SMRT Science (http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  2. Advance Genomics with Single Molecule, Real-Time (Smrt) Sequencing,” SMRT Science (http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  3. Scientists publish unique genomic discoveries with single molecule, real-time sequencing,” Phys.org, posted 12 Nov 2015 (https://phys.org/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  4. Metal-devouring plant hero: How do hyperaccumulating plants extract metals from contaminated soil?Experiment.com (https://experiment.com/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  5. 2017 SMRT Grant Finalist: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Explosive Bombardier Beetle,” SMRT Science (http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  6. 2017 SMRT Grant Finalist: Conservation Genomics to the Rescue — Saving the Dodo’s Cousin!,” SMRT Science (http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  7. 2017 SMRT Grant Finalist: The Climate-Friendly Solar-Powered Sea Slug,” SMRT Science (http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  8. 2017 SMRT Grant Finalist: Genomics and Venomics of the Sexually Dimorphic Temple Pitviper,” SMRT Science (http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  9. 2017 SMRT Grant Finalist: Dancing with Dingos,” SMRT Science (http://www.pacb.com/smrt-science/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  10. See “Sandy the dingo wins world’s most interesting genome competition,” Press Release, University of New South Wales, published at ScienceDaily, posted 14 Apr 2017 (www.sciencedaily.com/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  11. And note the view of Gizmodo’s Rhett Jones: “Alright, I’m sorry but the pink pigeon is the clear loser. Pigeons are gross.” Rhett Jones, “The ‘Explosive’ Bombardier Beetle Got Robbed by a Dingo for the Title of Most Interesting Genome,” Gizmodo, posted 15 Apr 2017 (http://gizmodo.com/ : accessed 27 May 2017).
  12. See ibid. (“was that the right decision? No, Sandy is kind of like a doggo and it’s clear that voters let her cuteness win out over far more interesting genomes”).
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