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Explore the Natural World

In addition to the massive international project that decoded the human genome, many scientists have been working to decode and understand the genomes of many other living things:  from microbes, to African elephants, to corn. As different as these cells and organisms may appear on the surface, genetic elements from even the smallest and simplest organisms can also be found in humans. 

Genetic studies have shown that animals and fungi are more closely related to each other than to plants.

For instance, although you may not look much like a mouse or a jellyfish, you share thousands of genes with them. And your genome not only contains genes found in other animals, but also genes found in plants, fungi, even bacteria.  In fact, genetic studies have shown that animals and fungi are more closely related to each other than to plants.  

As one scientist put it:  “You’re more closely related to the mushrooms in your salad than to the lettuce.”   

By comparing the genomes of different organisms to each other and to the human genome (a field known as comparative genomics), we can gain a better understanding of our own DNA – what humans have in common with other species, the genetic basis of being human, the genetic links to human disease, and even how life evolved on Earth.One challenge confronting scientists today is the number of species that are going extinct. Human activity is credited with (or blamed for) the extinction of nearly 900 species in the past 500 years!  Close to 17,000 plants and animals are currently listed as endangered species.

Human activity is credited with … the extinction of nearly 900 species in the past 500 years. 

As scientists work to understand our human genes, where we came from, and how we are related to other living organisms, every species that is lost takes with it a piece of the puzzle, breaking a twig from the Tree of Life. Conversely, protecting the Natural World and its diversity enables us not only to learn more about the history of our planet but also to gain a better understanding of its future.

Resources
 
(1) Animal, Plant, and Fungi Phylogeny. Bright Hub Education.