Candiles is the Iberian lynx chosen by scientists as the subject of a national research to unveil the genome of this species, the first animal genome that is analysed in Spain. He was born in Andújar in 2006, he was one of the founders of the ex situ conservation programme, and nowadays is an active reproductive male in The Olivilla captive breeding centre, in Jaén province.
But, what is the purpose? What is the usefulness of a research that consist of reading, identify and place in their correct site the approximately 3.000 million of letters that form the lynx genome? It is expected that the information generated will clarify the evolution of this species and tell us lots of things about the biology of this feline, the most endangered in the world.
Furthermore, the genome will lead to a better understanding of the consequences that the decline of this species may have had on its genetic composition. All of this knowledge will be used to improve the efforts that are being made to preserve the Iberian lynx.
The choice of Candiles was not random. Scientist of Lynxgenomics project wanted an animal who were captive so it was closely monitored for his health status, behaviour or other aspects like reproduction. They also tried to choose a young individual who had moderate levels of inbreeding, and that is the reason they went for a specimen from the Andújar population and not for one from Doñana, which is genetically poorer.
As for the sex, researchers preferred a male in order to have the 'Y' chromosome represented, which is not in the female (they are 'XX'), says the project coordinator, José Antonio Godoy, and leader of the Conservation Genetic group in the Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC.
Unveiling the lynx genome is a three-year project with almost 30 researchers involved from six different insitutions led by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC). The project will end in 2014 with the production of a high quality genome draft, identified with what scientist call 'annotations'.
After the PandaThe project has been funded by the CSIC General Foundation, in a special call for research on endangered species (Proyectos Cero: Especies Amenazadas). Thanks to this, lynx will be the second species of an animal in the verge of extinction to have its whole genome characterized, after the giant panda's was released in 2010.
The high risk of extinction boost the importance of sequencing the lynx genome, of gathering and archiving all its genetic information. If extinction becomes a reality scientist would have, at least, valuable data about the Iberian lynx which would also help to understand the evolution of species and how they became distinct.
Accordingly, Lynxgenomics joins the international effort to collect and store genomic information from all the terrestrial vertebrates, a total amount of 10.000 species. It is the Genome 10K Project, that aims to "understand the history of life in the earth and what makes unique each species", explains Godoy. Therefore, in the future we will find out what makes the lynx different from, for example, a panther.
Another ten Iberian lynx, a relative... and a catThe task in this project does not finish with Candiles. His will become the reference genome but the aim is to sequence samples from another ten Iberian lynx and an European lynx, in order to be able to make comparisons between the two species. Scientist will use DNA provided by six lynx from Sierra Morena, in Jaén, --the same place where Candiles is from-- and another four from Doñana. As for this latter area there are less samples because the genetic diversity is lower than in Jaén, what means that the genetic similarities in the population are very high. In addition, the DNA of the closest relative of the Iberian lynx, the European lynx, will also be sequenced.
In parallel, other countries are working on the sequencing of other feline genomes. Nowadays, as soon as we have the lynx genome it could be compared with the domestic cat, whose genome was assembled in 2007 because this pet has become a model for research on several human diseases.
The genetic map of its domestic relative, which is quite close –they shared an ancient ancestor about seven million years ago) can be helpful in the lynx genome assembly process, which consists in placing the huge amount of data of a living being DNA in the correct order.
The main aim of this research is to generate the first map of the Iberian lynx genome, which will provide important information on the evolution of this species and on the genetic consequences of its decline.
The lynx genomic sequence has already been identified by CNAG and is in the process of being assembled. When the process ends, in 2012, the researchers will face a new challenge: interpret it and compare it to other felid genomes.