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December 16, 2013

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Bullfrog research takes big leap forward

Bullfrogs—to most of us they’re just big, green, bug-eyed critters that hop and croak and (usually) make us laugh. They’re also invasive in some regions, including BC. But to scientists studying environmental health, bullfrogs are an ideal “indicator” species for monitoring the effects of pollutants such as pesticides, drugs and industrial effluents.

That’s why there’s a lot of excitement in a University of Victoria lab about a new project to become the first in the world to sequence the bullfrog’s complete set of genes, or genome.

Bullfrogs are “true frogs”, or ranids, a family of frogs that, because of their unique transformation from aquatic tadpole to terrestrial frog, have yielded key discoveries in many biological and medical fields. But progress in these fields has been hampered by the lack of a true frog genome reference.

“We don’t know much about the bullfrog at the molecular level, and there is an emerging need to understand the changes in their DNA when they’re exposed to pollutants,” says UVic molecular biologist Dr. Caren Helbing. She’s working with Dr. Inan Birol at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre on the 18-month long project, which is being funded by $200,000 from Genome BC.

“Just as sequencing the human genome is revolutionizing medicine, generating a bullfrog genome will help us further understand the basis for disease and immunity, genetic biodiversity, response to environmental pollutants, and habitat and climate change.”

The bullfrog genome is about twice the size of the human genome, says Helbing. Her team of students and research staff will use advanced technology to generate millions of DNA sequences, and then piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle to form the complete genome. “The low-cost methods we develop to do this will be directly applicable to other organisms with complex genomes,” she says.

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  Media Contacts:

Dr. Caren Helbing (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry) at 250-721-6146 or chelbing@uvic.ca
Valerie Shore (Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-7641 or vshore@uvic.ca

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