End of an era: The C. elegans genetic map is now frozen.

Nearly 50 years after Sydney Brenner’s letter to Max Perutz set the wheels in motion for the use of Caenorhabditis elegans as a potent genetic model system, leading eventually to six Nobel prizes and a global research community numbering in the thousands, a new threshold has been crossed.

Starting with the latest release of the C. elegans genome (WS232 in worm-speak), the genetic map is now FROZEN. Recombinational distances have changed very little over the last three years, a testament both to the fine granularity of the genetic map as well as — perhaps — to shifting tides in experimental approaches.

New mutations, deficiencies and rearrangements will still be placed on the map but simply assigned an interpolated genetic position.

Finishers and curators are the unsung heroes of the Genome Era.

The utility of genome sequencing projects would be greatly reduced without the efforts of finishers and curators.

A few days ago, Elie Dolgin wrote in Nature News about the role that finishers are playing to complete and make sense of the human genome (see “Human Genomics: The Genome Finishers”, 16 December 2009 | Nature 462, 843-845 (2009) | doi:10.1038/462843a).

Having worked on model organisms for two decades on both the bench and sequencing sides — including working with a team of curators annotating one specific model organism — it’s clear that the field of genomics wouldn’t be where it is today without the toil of genome finishers and curators.

Sure, the raw and basic assemblies have been deposited in public repositories. And they’ve been useful to a degree for basic researchers. Still, sequence gaps remain. Assembly errors are rampant. Without annotation, bench scientists spend their time piecing together sequence and doing piecemeal analyses instead of the next Big Experiment. Often, results from those experiments then remain buried in publications, not associated with the sequence it is intended to clarify.

Finishing and annotating the sequence serves to make sense of the jumble that remains after the sequencers have been powered down and moved to their new digs in the basement of the industrial park across town.

Let’s face it: the primary sequence is the easiest information to acquire but it isn’t the most information rich. It’s the layers of annotations that rest upon that sequence that make it useful. Generating and curating those annotations are a difficult, tedious, and usually thankless job, but a required one if we are ever to talk about “completing the genome.”

So at the risk of sounding like a Budweiser commercial, “Here’s to you, finishers and curators!”

Thanks to @bmahersciwriter for drawing my attention to Elie’s article.