Comparative genomics is a field of biological research in which the genomic features of different organisms are compared. The genomic features may include the DNA sequence, genes, gene order, regulatory sequences, and other genomic structural landmarks. In this branch of genomics, whole or large parts of genomes resulting from genome projects are compared to study basic biological similarities and differences as well as evolutionary relationships between organisms. The major principle of comparative genomics is that common features of two organisms will often be encoded within the DNA that is evolutionarily conserved between them. Therefore, comparative genomic approaches start with making some form of alignment of genome sequences and looking for orthologous sequences in the aligned genomes and checking to what extent those sequences are conserved. Based on these, genome and molecular evolution are inferred and this may in turn be put in the context of, for example, phenotypic evolution or population genetics.
With the explosion in the number of genome projects due to the advancements in DNA sequencing technologies, particularly the next-generation sequencing methods in the late 2000s, this field has become more sophisticated, making it possible to deal with many genomes in a single study. Comparative genomics has revealed high levels of similarity between closely related organisms, such as humans and chimpanzees, and, more surprisingly, similarity between seemingly distantly related organisms, such as humans and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It has also shown the extreme diversity of the gene composition in different evolutionary lineages. It helps us to further understand what genes relate to certain biological systems, which in turn may translate into innovative approaches for treating human disease and improving human health. By taking advantage of and analyzing the evolutionary relationships between species and the corresponding differences in their DNA, scientists can better understand how the appearance, behavior and biology of living things have changed over time.
Computational tools for analyzing sequences and complete genomes are developing quickly due to the availability of large amounts of genomic data. At the same time, comparative analysis tools have progressed and improved. In the challenges about these analyses, it is very important to visualize the comparative results. Comparison of discrete segments of genomes is also possible by aligning homologous DNA from different species.
Visualization of sequence conservation is a tough task of comparative sequence analysis. As we know, it is highly inefficient to examine the alignment of long genomic regions manually. Internet-based genome browsers provide many useful tools for investigating genomic sequences due to integrating all sequence-based biological information on genomic regions. When we extract large amounts of relevant biological data, they can be very easy to use and less time-consuming.
- UCSC Browser: This site contains the reference sequence and working draft assemblies for a large collection of genomes.
- Ensembl: The Ensembl project produces genome databases for vertebrates and other eukaryotic species, and makes this information freely available online.
- MapView: The Map Viewer provides a wide variety of genome mapping and sequencing data.
- VISTA is a comprehensive suite of programs and databases for comparative analysis of genomic sequences. It was built to visualize the results of comparative analysis based on DNA alignments. The presentation of comparative data generated by VISTA can easily suit both small and large scales of data.
- BlueJay Genome Browser: a stand-alone visualization tool for the multi-scale viewing of annotated genomes and other genomic elements.