How pythons regenerate their organs and other secrets of the snake genome

Evolution takes eons, but it leaves marks on the genomes of organisms that can be detected with DNA sequencing and analysis.

As methods for studying and comparing genetic data improve, scientists are beginning to decode these marks to reconstruct the evolutionary history of species, as well as how variants of genes give rise to unique traits.

A research team at the University of Texas at Arlington led by assistant professor of biology Todd Castoe has been exploring the genomes of snakes and lizards to answer critical questions about these creatures' evolutionary history. For instance, how did they develop venom? How do they regenerate their organs? And how do evolutionarily-derived variations in genes lead to variations in how organisms look and function?

"Some of the most basic questions drive our research. Yet trying to understand the genetic explanations of such questions is surprisingly difficult considering most vertebrate genomes, including our own, are made up of literally billions of DNA bases that can determine how an organism looks and functions," says Castoe. "Understanding these links between differences in DNA and differences in form and function is central to understanding biology and disease, and investigating these critical links requires massive computing power."

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