Kangaroo Hops in Line for Genome Sequencing|
U.S. and Australian Scientists Select Tammar Wallaby for Collaborative Project
San Francisco The National Human Genome Research
Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
today announced a partnership with the Melbourne-based Australian
Genome Research Facility Ltd. (AGRF) to sequence the DNA of one
of Australia's best-known animals: a member of the kangaroo family
known as the tammar wallaby.
"This scientific collaboration between the United States and
Australia represents another important step in our quest to gain
a better understanding of the human genome," said NHGRI Director
Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. "As we build on the success
of the Human Genome Project, it has been increasingly clear that
one of the best tools for identifying crucial elements in the human
genome is to compare it with the genomes of a wide variety of other
Comparing the human genome sequence with those of other organisms,
such as the roundworm, mouse or kangaroo, enables scientists to
identify regions of similarity and difference that can provide clues
about the structure and function of genes vital to human health
and development. The type of kangaroo chosen for sequencing is the
tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), a relatively small member
of the kangaroo family found on islands along Australia's southern
and western coasts. Researchers are studying the tammar wallaby
to gain insights applicable to human reproduction and development;
evolution; anatomy and physiology of mammals; and disease susceptibility.
The kangaroo will be the second marsupial to have its genome sequenced;
several months ago, NHGRI approved plans to sequence a gray short-tailed,
South American opossum (Monodelphis domestica).
"We expect the data generated by the kangaroo genome project
will prove to be extremely valuable for medical research, as well
as agricultural research, around the globe. In addition, the project
is an exciting opportunity for Australian scientists to build relationships
with the National Institutes of Health one of the largest and
most influential medical research agencies in the world," said
John Brumby, who is treasurer of the Australian state of Victoria
and part of the Victorian delegation to the BIO2004 conference in
AGRF expects to begin sequencing the kangaroo genome in 2004 and
complete its part of the effort in approximately two years. The
State Government of Victoria, Australia is providing up to $3.2 million
(Australian $4.5 million) in support for the project to AGRF, which
will sequence the approximately 3 billion DNA letters of the tammar
wallaby's genome to one-fold sequence coverage. Once AGRF obtains
one-fold coverage, NHGRI-supported researchers will sequence an
equivalent number of base pairs to achieve the project's goal of
two-fold sequence coverage. The exact cost of the entire project
will not be known until the U.S. component begins in mid-2006 because
sequencing costs are expected to continue to drop significantly
with ongoing technological advances.
NHGRI has chosen the Baylor College of Medicine's Human Genome
Sequencing Center in Houston, which is part of NHGRI's Large-Scale
Sequencing Research Network, to carry out the U.S. component of
the effort. The data will be deposited into free public databases
that are easily accessible to researchers worldwide.
In addition to its scientific challenges, the kangaroo genome
project holds a special personal appeal for Richard Gibbs, Ph.D.,
director of the Baylor sequencing center. Dr. Gibbs grew up in southern
Australia, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and played
with wallabies as a child. Consulting on the project will be Kerstin
Linblad-Toh, Ph.D., of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which
is also part of NHGRI's Large-Scale Sequencing Research Network.
Dr. Lindblad-Toh's group was involved in sequencing and finishing
the genome of the human, is currently working on finishing the mouse
genome sequence and continues work on the genomes of several other
organisms, including the dog and a group of fungi.
Marsupials are unique among mammals because their young are born
at an extremely early stage of development and complete their development
sheltered inside their mother's protective pouch. This makes the
young readily available for early developmental research. Marsupials,
which last shared a common ancestor with humans about 130 million
years ago, also provide a unique midpoint on the evolutionary timeline
for comparative studies involving other mammals. In addition to
sequencing species that are far apart on the evolutionary tree,
it is important to sequence sets of species that are closely related.
Having two marsupial genomes, separated by 70-80 million years of
evolution, will provide scientists with data sets that should allow
them to make more precise alignments with the human genome sequence.
To read a white paper describing the scientific rationale for
sequencing the tammar wallaby, go to: http://www.genome.gov/Pages/Research/Sequencing/SeqProposals/WallabySEQ.pdf.
It is estimated that 1 million of the animals currently live on
Kangaroo Island, Australia's third largest island. Tammar wallabies
breed once a year, delivering their young on or about the same day
each year and then mate again within an hour of delivery, accounting
for their population explosion. A high-resolution photo of the tammar
wallaby is available at: http://www.genome.gov/10005141.
To learn more about the rapidly growing field of comparative genomic
analysis, go to: www.genome.gov/10005835.
For the white papers on other organisms currently in NHGRI's sequencing
pipeline, go to: www.genome.gov/10002154.
For more on NHGRI's selection process for large-scale sequencing
projects, go to: www.genome.gov/Sequencing/OrganismSelection.
NHGRI is one of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH, an agency
of the Department of Health and Human Services. The NHGRI Division
of Extramural Research supports grants for research and for training
and career development at sites nationwide. Additional information
about NHGRI can be found at its Web site, www.genome.gov.