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Tuatara genome reveals diverse insights into a remarkable reptile

A once-species-rich order of reptiles called the Rhynchocephalia lived across the globe during the time of the dinosaurs1,2. Just one of these species survives today: the tuatara (Fig. 1). Found only in New Zealand, tuatara are a taonga (‘special treasure’) for Maori people. The reptiles have a set of intriguing traits — including longevity and an unusual combination of bird- and reptile-like morphological features3 — that have led to uncertainty over their place in the evolutionary tree. Writing in Nature, Gemmell et al.4 report the first whole-genome sequence for the tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus). The researchers’ study provides insights into the biology and evolution of this extraordinary animal.

The work is a collaboration between genomicists and Ngātiwai, the Maori iwi (people) who have guardianship over the tuatara populations used in this study. Even with the advances in genome-sequencing technology over the past several years, it is not possible to produce a high-quality genome sequence without access to good genetic material. The researchers obtained this only through collaboration. Ngātiwai were involved in all decision-making processes for this study, and are commendably listed as the paper’s last authors. Gemmell et al. also provide a template agreement that other researchers can follow should they wish to consult with traditional guardians of other organisms. As such, the study sets a new standard for collaboration with Indigenous guardians on genomics and other scientific endeavours.

Please, to access the full article visit Nature