Research: Cows, snakes share DNA

Have genetic information, will travel?

Bov-B does.

Roughly a quarter of a cow’s genetic makeup originally came from reptiles, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and highlighted by Australia’s ABC News.

The shared sequence is known as Bov-B. As far as researchers know, it doesn’t do much other than replicate. Oh, and hop from species-to-species more times in history than most scientists previously thought.

It was first noted in the 1980’s that cows and snakes each possessed a similar section of DNA that happened to repeat. Taking the information, scientists looked for more information in genomic databases and sequenced DNA from animals for which the information wasn’t previously available.

Prof. David Adelson, the head of Molecular and Biomedical Science at the University of Adelaide and project leader, said researchers still are puzzling out the mechanism for how the switch happens but it’s thought a common parasite may be the cause – ticks. Similar types of ticks feed on mammal and reptiles, which could have led to the cross-over.

The sequence itself operates as a retrotrasposon, which is a “genetic element with the ability to replicate itself,” according to ABC News. It then can integrate itself in other bits on DNA and make copies of itself.

The news is a big deal, as genes traditionally have been thought to pass only from parents to progeny, especially in complex organisms such as humans, cows and snakes.

Interestingly, Bov-B is a pretty well-traveled bit of DNA. It also appears in platypuses, sea urchins and elephants, National Geographic reports.

Read the full story from ABC News here and the full article from National Geographic here.

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