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Genomics Bigs Decode Wee Genome

NEW YORK, May 3 - They may be some of the biggest names in genome sequencing, but they haven't overlooked the world's littlest genome.


A group of genetic researchers today said they have sequenced and annotated what might be the smallest genome known to science, the 500-kilobase Nanoarchaeum equitans.


The project was conducted by Diversa, Celera Genomics, and University of Regensburg professor Karl Stetter, who initially identified the organism.


Only 400 nm across, N. equitans survives by clinging to larger Archaea. Stetter discovered the pocket-sized prokaryote north of Iceland in the gravel beds of undersea hot vents.


The discovery and sequencing were reported yesterday in the May 2 edition of Nature.


Sequencing N. equitans could cast light on the minimum number of genes necessary for life, and may also help biologists understand the pathways of evolution. Diversa has retained rights to any commercial applications of the genome.


Discovery techniques like targeting specific ribosomal small subunit RNA genes may soon reveal bugs that are yet stranger, write Yan Boucher and W. Ford Doolittle in an accompanying analysis. "Satisfying as this has been, there is a lingering suspicion--or romantic hope, depending on your disposition--that there might be even weirder organisms hanging out there."

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