The origins of the long-living tuatara have been revealed.
Sequencing of the tuatara genome has shown the reptile, which is only found in New Zealand, shows they have been on their own branch of the evolutionary tree for some 250 million years.
That has excited the team of University of Otago scientists, led by geneticist and lead author, Professor Neil Gemmell, who says urther discoveries lie ahead for tuatara, which can live for 100 years.
The longevity of the tuatara has long been of interest to researchers.
Neil says an examination of some of the genes that protect the body from the ravages of age found tuatara have more of these genes than any other vertebrate species thus far examined.
“Could this be one of the keys to their long lifespan?
“Tuatara also don’t appear to get many diseases, so looking into what genetic factors might protect them is another point of focus for our study, as too we have also explored genetic aspects that underpin the vision, smell and temperature regulation of tuatara.”
With the genome now sequenced, the international science community now had a blueprint to examine the many unique features of tuatara biology, which would aid understanding of the evolution of the amniotes, a group that includes birds, reptiles and mammals, Neil says.
“It is not far-fetched to suggest that through our new understanding of the tuatara genome, there may be novel insights that emerge that will benefit our understanding of our own biology and health.”
The team's finding have been published in the prestigious international scientific journal Nature.
Neil says the sequencing of the tuatara genome was 67 per cent bigger than the human genome, and revealed a genomic architecture unlike anything previously reported.