North American mountain goats are an iconic symbol of the alpine landscape, revered for their sure-footedness on steep, rocky terrain, and the ability to thrive in cold, harsh climates. Facing pressure from industrial development, recreational activities, and climate change there is a growing need to develop new tools to help support conservation and management strategies of these unique northern alpine specialists.
In describing the first genome assembly of the North American mountain goat, Daria Martchenko, a Ph.D. candidate at Trent University, seeks to build on her research and explore more in-depth questions about mountain goat ecology and adaptations to the environment.
How does the study of biology, big data, and programming come together? Ms. Martchenko answers a few questions about her recent research and exciting new publication.
How did you become interested in your area of study?
“Mountain goats are unique alpine mammals, vulnerable to human disturbance, overharvesting and climate change. As mountain goats are so specialized they provide a very interesting field of study to investigate if their DNA is a reflection of adaptation to their environment. I have always been interested in the application of statistical and computational methods in resolving biological questions. The field of genomics is a new and rapidly developing field that offers innovative insights into how organisms function, adapt to their environment and evolve over time.”
What are you currently researching at Trent?
“I am a Ph.D. candidate in the Environmental and Life Sciences program, my research falls broadly in the field of wildlife genomics. Currently, I am using genomic data to study the ecology and the evolution of the North American mountain goat. I think it’s a very exciting field to be in right now, and an area where I can apply my statistical analysis skills and previous experience with large and complex datasets.”
What insights have you gained with your research?
“In our recent publication in G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics, we describe the first genome assembly and annotation for the North American mountain goat. The genome assembly serves as a robust reference point to which other individual’s data can be mapped, and It can be used in other studies, for example, to reconstruct the evolutionary history of Caprinae, the goat-antelope subfamily. We also modelled the historical population demography, which gives us a glimpse of how the species responded to climate change in the past.”
Where will this research take you next?
“I will be building on the research from this publication to analyze DNA sequence data from 300 individuals from different locations. The next step for my thesis is looking at the contemporary population structure across the entire species range and exploring the link between genetic data and environmental variation.”