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NHGRI, Australian Facility, ABI to Sequence Kangaroo Cousin; Aiming for the Evolutionary Sweet Spot

An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that the Australian Genome Research Facility is based in Melbourne. While the AGRF operates a node in that city, the organization's headquarters are in fact at the  Universityof Queensland in Brisbane.

NEW YORK, June 8 (GenomeWeb News) - The National Human Genome Research Institute will join forces with the Australian Genome Research Facility to sequence the genome of the tammar wallaby, a member of the kangaroo family, research organizers said today.


Applied Biosystems will help the project by providing discounts on instruments and reagents, and transferring sequencing expertise developed at Celera. The Applera unit will also provide the Australian researchers with early access to new software and technology, according to an ABI official.


The tammar wallaby, also known as Macropus eugenii, will be the second marsupial to have its genome sequenced; in February, the NHGRI  announced plans to sequence the gray short-tailed, South American opossum, or Monodelphis domestica.


AGRF, based in Brisbane, said it expects to begin sequencing the 3-billion-base-pair genome later this year and complete its part of the effort in approximately two years. The state government of Victoria, Australia, is providing up to Aus$4.5 million (US$3.2 million) for the project.


AGRF will sequence the genome to one-fold coverage, and then Baylor College of Medicine's HumanGenomeSequencingCenterin Houstonwill carry out the remainder of the project to two-fold sequence coverage. NHGRI said the exact costs of the entire project will not be known until Baylor's share begins in mid-2006 "because sequencing costs are expected to continue to drop significantly with ongoing technological advances."


Speaking to reporters at a news conference during the BIO 2004 conference in San Franciscotoday, Francis Collins, director of the NHGRI, added that of the 10 million to 12 million sequence reads envisioned under the project, half will be done at AGRF and half at Baylor. NHGRI is matching reads, rather than funds; the NHGRI hasn't put a figure on this cost, Collins said.


Interestingly, the Australian funding comes only from the state of Victoria, and not from the Australian federal government: The NHGRI gave Australians until March to find the funds, and only Victoriacould meet that deadline, John Brumby, minister of innovation for Victoria, said during the news conference.


Collins said the wallaby may contain important genomic components that could eventually lead to better understanding of certain human diseases. Specifically, Collins said, the animal may help researchers learn more about lung immaturity in newborns.


Collins said some mammals are a bit too close to humans evolutionarily. In the mouse or rat some data look conserved, but really it isn't; there just hasn't been enough for the sequence to diverge, he said. Fish are not similar enough, but marsupials are just right. "They sit in an evolutionary sweet spot," he said.


An NHGRI white paper describing the scientific rationale for sequencing the tammar wallaby is available  here.


John S. MacNeil in San Franciscocontributed to this article.

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