Modern gene sequencing machines are very fast, reading through the DNA of a peanut, eggplant, or armadillo in two days. But what they spit out are billions of disorganized fragments of DNA code. Olga Dudchenko has helped to make the next step—pasting those bits together in the right order, to reveal the actual genome—faster and cheaper.
Dudchenko uses Hi-C, a technique originally developed to study how chromosomes fold, to show which bits of DNA lie physically close to one another. Coupled with Dudchenko’s methods and algorithms, this makes assembling genomes easy.
In late 2018, Dudchenko and her colleagues shared the first results of DNA Zoo, including end-to-end chromosome sequences for more than 50 species, including the cheetah, red panda, and Brazilian porcupine. In a world of mounting extinction, these species’ DNA code may one day be all that’s left of them.
The job ahead is to characterize the genome of every species on earth. The DNA Zoo (where Dudchenko is referred to as “chief zookeeper”) releases new data every week. “The ability to [make] decisions in an informed fashion can mean the difference between survival and extinction of the species,” she says.