Sequencing the Reindeer Genome

Student writer: Trenton Beckendorff
Student editors: Belicia Tan
23andMe editor: Thao Do

The Headline

  • For the first time, researchers assembled and published a reference genome for reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) [1].

Wait, reindeer are actually real?

Rangifer tarandus, commonly referred to as reindeer or caribou, are unique to the tundra and arctic ecosystems surrounding our planet’s polar regions [17]. The species consists of 14 sub-species which scientists believe are the result of genetic isolation that occured when populations were separated due to glacial movements during the Pleistocene period [2].

What is a reference genome?

Reference genomes are high-quality, well-annotated genomes that serve as the basis for researchers’ ability to perform comparative analysis and validation of their studies [1]. The size of these genomes are typically measured in gigabases (Gb), which represent one billion nucleotide bases of genetic information [3]. he reference genome for reindeer was recorded as 615 Gb, and contained 21,555 protein encoding genes that were annotated [1]. Gene annotation is the process by which researchers label the genome in order to identify the locations of specific genes and their properties, such as information about the protein that they encode [4].

In comparison, the human reference genome has 20,231 protein-encoding genes that are annotated within UniProtKB, a public database which contains functional information on proteins [5].

How can this study help scientists?

Scientists will be able to use the reference genome to conduct future studies related to the “domestication, evolution, and unique characteristics of the reindeer that will expand our knowledge of the species” [1]. For example, a preliminary analysis of the reference genome has suggested that this species of reindeer diverged from its ancestors over 29.5 million years ago [1].

Thought Question for Students

Given the availability of this reference genome, what are potential questions that future studies may try to answer?


  1. Li, Z., Lin, Z., Ba, H., Chen, L., Yang, Y., Wang, K., . . . Li, G. (2017, November 01). Draft genome of the reindeer ( Rangifer tarandus ) | GigaScience | Oxford Academic. Retrieved January 09, 2018, from
  2. Rangifer tarandus . (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2018, from
  3. Giga base pairs. (n.d.). Retrieved January 09, 2018, from
  4. What is genome annotation? (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2018, from
  5. European Bioinformatics Institute Protein Information Resource SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. (n.d.). European Bioinformatics Institute. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from
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