Inferring evolutionary processes from genetic differences
---- What kinds of research programs are you pursuing at your laboratory amidst this rapidly changing environment surrounding genome research?
Dr. Koyanagi: I belong to the Laboratory of Genome Sciences in the Division of Bioengineering and Bioinformatics, where we study genomes from the standpoint of evolution in order to understand the relationship of genomes and phenotypes (disease, physical characteristics, etc.) and the diversity of living organisms. We are also developing different tools for use in genome research.
Studying genomes from an evolutionary standpoint involves comparing genomes of various living organisms and elucidating what kinds of effects their resemblances and differences have on their evolution. For example, we compare the sequences of particular genes between humans and chimpanzees, determine differences and when they have arisen, and infer how the differences affect the phenotypes of the two species.
Also, even within the same species, genes undergo subtle changes as they are passed on from generation to generation. Since some of these changes are believed to enhance an organism’s ability to withstand changing environments and to survive, comparing genes of past and present organisms would enable us to discover which genes play a role in enhancing their capacity to adapt to their environments. We are carrying out statistical analysis of genome information in genome databases (Ex. 1), but to compare genes that are not found in databases, we use the DNA sequencer (machine for automatic nucleotide sequencing) at our laboratory to sequence genes from a certain sample of an organism.