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Microtus arvalis orcadensis
We're only found in the Orkney Isles so we're quite rare
Roughly the same as all mammals, around 3 billion base pairs
66 million years ago, just after the asteroid impact that wiped out dinosaurs
I should be sequenced because...: I'm rare, vulnerable and a fascinating example of recent evolution in action
Until about 5000 years ago there were no European Common Voles living anywhere in the British Isles and then, for reasons that are lost in the mists of time, some famers living on the coast of Belgium sailed their way to the Orkney Isles taking a small population of European Common Voles with them.
Whether the voles were carried deliberately (perhaps they were a favourite snack of the ancient Belgiums), or somehow stowed away on the boats, is unclear. But perhaps the answer is in the name of the animal itself, the ‘vole’. Surely it’s no coincidence that the word for ‘stolen’ in the French-speaking part of Belgium from where my ancestors originate is ‘vole’.
Whatever the answer is, 5000 years later we are still the only European Common Voles in the British Isles.
From just a few Belgium invaders grew a population of Orkney Voles, and my ancestors soon adapted to their new and harsh environment. But we are still fairly rare and inbred, so are vulnerable to infections that could wipe out our entire population, especially in a harsh environment like the Orkney Isles. So if you want to investigate the mysteries of our genome you’d better get on with it, as there’s always the risk of us going extinct.
Of course what also makes our genome more interesting than any of the others is that precisely 5000 years ago my ancestors moved from the calm and moderately warm climate of Belgium to the wild, wet and windy northern outpost of the Orkney Isles. In just 5000 years we’ve adapted and (often) thrived in this new environment. So compare our genome that of our Belgium cousins (which is already available) and you’ll reveal many secrets about how animals adapt to harsh environments .
What could possibly be more interesting than that?!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
small, cute (and rather unfortunately) tasty
What's it like where you live?
The Orkney Isles can be very cold, wet and rather windy
What's your favourite food?
We're mainly vegetarian, but will also take a few insects as a special snack
What's your family life like?
Dangerous. Lots of kids, and often living in tunnels to avoid the bad weather
Are you endangered or threatened by anything?
We only live in Orkney and are quite inbred, so are at high risk of infection
What's the best thing about you/interesting fact?
My ancestors arrived in Orkney from Belgium about 5000 years ago