The science behind the LilBubome – Part 1.
In our previous blog post we spoke about the concept of the LilBubome and our idea to raise money for it through crowdfunding. Today we want to tell you a little about the science behind the project. We’ve mentioned that we want “sequence the DNA of Lil Bub”. Here, we explain what that means.
To start of with, every living organism (you, me, your cat, your office plant…) is composed of cells. Humans are made of trillions of cells. These cells fulfill different functions and can look very different. For example a skin cell needs to protect your body from all kinds of nasty substances, so it looks very different from a brain cell, which need to transmit information to your brain. Despite their different functions and appearance, (almost) all cells have a little organelle in them, called the nucleus. If you look inside the nucleus under the microscope you can find structures that are called chromosomes. These chromosomes are essentially long chains made of DNA.
DNA itself is composed of 4 building blocks, commonly abbreviated as A, C, G and T. These 4 building blocks are known as “bases” and the totality of DNA inside a cell is referred to as “genome”. Importantly, although DNA only has 4 types of building blocks, there are almost countless possibilities of ordering them, because the total number of building blocks is so huge. The genome of a cat, for example, has a length of 3 billion bases, which means there are 43,000,000,000 possibilities of putting them in order. That’s a really, really, really big number.
You might have heard that the sequence of your genome (ie the order of the building blocks) determines the way you look, what diseases you develop etc. This is largely true. So if you can read the order of the bases (we refer to this as the DNA sequence) you can infer what traits you have. Luckily, determining the DNA sequence is now technically feasible. Unfortunately we’re still not very good at linking a given DNA sequence to a given trait. Moreover, it’s a complicated relationship: a given trait (for example a disease) can be caused by many different mutations, and a given sequence does not necessarily always result in the same trait. But by using information from other individuals with similar traits you can start dissecting these links. Alternatively you can look for DNA sequences that are unusual and that do not appear in individuals that do not share these traits. This is what we hope to do with Lil Bub.
First, we will determine the DNA sequence of Lil Bub’s. For this we need a small blood sample, which can be taken during Lil Bub’s normal visit to the vet, so absolutely no harm will come to her. Then we will look for regions in the DNA that we can link to the traits, either because they are not present in cats that don’t have Lil Bubs special looks or because similar changes have been found in individuals that share her traits.