Major technological advances have made it possible to sequence the genetic material of living organisms at a rapid pace. By comparing the genomes of different species, valuable information can be obtained on phylogenetic developments, the evolution of traits or adaptive abilities. Scientists from the LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG), led by Professor Michael Hiller, have developed a new method that should significantly simplify the comparison of genomic data. The study on this has been published in the journal Science.
In order to draw scientific conclusions from the comparison of two genomes, a two-step process is required. After locating individual genes within a genome, which is called gene annotation, the associated genes of the samples being compared must be determined. This is called orthology. Both steps have high technical requirements. The new bioinformatics method TOGA developed by TBG scientists can significantly simplify the analyses and address both challenges together. The acronym stands for "Tool to infer Orthologs from Genome Alignments." "We have nearly complete genomes available to us for the analyses, so we can use those as well, rather than just focusing on the protein-coding segments. By comparing whole genomes of different organisms and using machine learning, we can determine orthologous genes with a very high degree of accuracy," explains study leader Michael Hiller, professor of comparative genomics at the LOEWE Center TBG and the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Frankfurt, who started the project at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden.