Learning about human reproduction from the platypus
A four-year international project involving two researchers at the University of Newcastle has documented the entire genetic record of the platypus over the past 160 million years. A paper on the project is published today in the world's most prestigious scientific journal, Nature.
The project included Dr Russell Jones and Dr Brett Nixon from the School of Environmental and Life Sciences in the Faculty of Science and Information Technology, their colleague Dr Jean-Louis Dacheux at Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique Tours, France, and more than 100 researchers across the world.
Dr Jones said the project allowed him to investigate the evolutionary development of gametes and fertilisation, and answer more questions about human reproduction.
"Mapping the entire genetic record of the platypus is critically important to understanding the evolution of mammals and humans," he said.
"Now we can investigate the platypus on the molecular level. Evolution filters important genes and this project will help scientists look for vital clues in the development of mammals and humans.
"If you look back more than 160 million years, you will find the last common ancestor between humans and the platypus. So the platypus is our most distant mammalian relative, yet it is so different to us.
"I'm particularly interested in learning more about how and why human sperm mature in the male ducts after they leave the testis, and why they need to spend time in the female tract before they are capable of fertilising an ovum."
The project started in 2004 and was led by the Washington University Sequencing Centre, with funding from the National Institute of Health in the USA and the Australian Research Council.
Dr Jones and his long-time collaborator, Dr Frank Grutzner currently at the University of Adelaide, made international headlines in 2004 when they published in Nature that the sex chromosomes of the platypus were much closer to birds than humans.
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