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The research project was also supported by USA, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Argentina.
The big cats of the Panthera genus (lions, tigers, leopards, and snow leopards), as the scientists proved, have one ancestor, which is more similar to modern leopards. The differences between the species of the Panthera genus emerged about 4.6 mln years ago. With time a crucial factor, the populations have significantly decreased so far, so as their genetic diversity.
To survive and develop new skills animals have crossed throughout the centuries. For example, jaguars, which have the strongest bite among the big cats, crossed with lions and became bigger in size. Besides, it inherited strong genes that form the optic nerve, as a result jaguars can now hunt crocodiles and tortoises.
The research findings open new horizons in evolutionary studies of the big cats. The data obtained have already been used in genomic analysis of the populations to assess their genetic diversity.
“Our research of the evolutionary hierarchy and traces of the ancient hybridization allowed to identify two genes that form the optic nerve in animals, — said Doctor Stephen J. O’Brien. — Obviously, the data obtained will be used in environment preservation. If we know the secrets of evolutionary adaptation, we can preserve many species which are facing extinction now”.
The Centre is developing a genome of those species of cats that are little, if any, studied, says Stephen J. O’Brien. The research aims to study evolutionary adaptation in depth on a par with the well-studied big predators of the cat family.
Opened in 2012, the Dobzhansky Centre for Genomic Bioinformatics is the largest platform for interdisciplinary research projects in bioinformatics, genomics, molecular biology in Russia. It offers innovative computational tools to assemble genomes of the vertibrate animals to use the research results in medicine and environment preservation.
The Centre’s experts have successfully assembled the genomes of the African cheetahs, Amur tigers and leopards which are at the threat of extinction. Besides, SPbU and its foreign partners create bioinformatics tools to discover and transfer genes, gene therapy and techniques of drug advances.