13.1: Evolutionary Relationships through Genome Comparisons
Genome comparison is one of the excellent ways to interpret the evolutionary relationships between organisms. The basic principle of genome comparison is that if two species share a common feature, it is likely encoded by the DNA sequence conserved between both species. The advent of genome sequencing technologies in the late 20th century enabled scientists to understand the concept of conservation of domains between species and helped them to deduce evolutionary relationships across diverse organisms.
Genome comparison can reveal three levels of evolutionary relationships. The first level provides deep insight into sequences and protein domains that are conserved across diverse groups of organisms, such as humans and fishes. The second level increases the resolution further to identify the unique DNA elements present in the closely related species, such as humans and chimpanzees. The third level with even higher data resolution distinguishes the genetic differences within a species, such as different variants and subtypes of an organism. This high-level resolution may identify mutations particular to individual microbial strains or clusters of infected cases, helping to track the disease outbreaks.
DNA sequencing tools
Several methods can be used to obtain the DNA sequence data required to deduce evolutionary relationships. Among them, whole-genome sequencing or WGS is a widely used technique. It provides high-resolution data extremely helpful to analyze mutations and conserved sequences among several organisms. It can also identify the cause of genetic disorders by comparing the DNA sequence of affected individuals to those of other unaffected subjects.
Data analysis tools
The data obtained by WGS or similar sequencing methods is analyzed by appropriate software tools to deduce evolutionary relationships. Molecular Evolutionary Genetics Analysis (MEGA) is one of the most widely used software tools. The programs present in the MEGA, such as assembly sequence alignment, building evolutionary trees, estimating genetic distances, and computation of evolutionary time trees, allow the users to curate and interpret the raw data obtained from sequencing techniques.