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Standards in the Wild: Scientists Sequence DNA of 240 Mammal Species, With the Help of Standards


An international project bringing together scientists from around the world called Zoonomia has sequenced the DNA of 240 mammal species, from ocean dwellers to desert critters, including humans and 52 endangered species.

The project, which aims to collect genetic material from across the entire mammalian family tree, is the largest of its kind to date. Although there are around 6,500 known living mammal species, the Zoonomia DNA collection includes representation of 80 percent of mammalian families. With this data, scientists are unlocking secrets to the progression of early mammal diversification, the origin of distinctive traits like hibernation, and even the unique evolution of humans’ brains.

"The reality is, from an evolutionary point of view, we don't know as much about mammals as we do know about how birds diverged," says Nicole Foley of Texas A&M University. "With all of this data, we can kind of get to the point where we have a much more accurate timeline for mammalian diversification."

DNA has been gathered and studied for many years and many purposes, and standards have long guided the science and techniques behind that. ISO/TS 22692:2020, Genomics Informatics—Quality Control Metrics for DNA Sequencing, identifies quality metrics for the detection of DNA variants using next generation sequencing (NGS) technology, providing a basis for sharing and for the application of "high quality" genomic data. This international document was published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 215, Health Informatics, Subcommittee (SC) 1, Genomics Informatics. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the U.S. member body to ISO, currently serves as the ISO/TC 215 secretariat and U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) administrator. ANSI is also the TAG administrator to SC 1.

With the wealth of information provided by the Zoonomia project, scientists may be better able to identify the species of origin when examining DNA. ANSI/ATCC ASN-0003-2015, Species-Level Identification of Animal Cells Through Mitochondrial Cytochrome C Oxidase Subunit 1 (CO1) DNA Barcodes, guides the identification of the species of origin of a tissue/organism sample. This American National Standard (ANS) was developed by the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), an ANSI member and accredited standards developer.

The database of such a wide range of mammalian DNA may also support research on DNA damage and its environmental implications. ASTM E2186-02a(2016), Standard Guide For Determining DNA Single-Strand Damage In Eukaryotic Cells Using The Comet Assay, covers the recommended criteria for performing a single-cell gel electrophoresis assay (SCG) or Comet assay for the measurement of DNA single-strand breaks in eukaryotic cells. The Comet assay is a very sensitive method for detecting strand breaks in the DNA of individual cells, and the majority of studies utilizing this assay have examined DNA damage in mammalian cells in vitro and in vivo. This standard was developed by ASTM International, an ANSI member and audited designator.

Learn more about the Zoonomia project in an NPR article and broadcast: Welcome to the mammalverse: Scientists sequence DNA from 240 species around the world