NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Australian researchers announced today that they have completed the first stage of the kangaroo genomics project: mapping the genome of the tammar wallaby, a model kangaroo.
Researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australian National University, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales, and the Australian Genome Research Foundation teamed up as part of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Kangaroo Genomics, or KanGO, to build the wallaby genetic map, which will act as a framework for kangaroo genome assembly.
When completed, the kangaroo genome is expected to provide new insights into mammalian genome organization, function, and evolution — as well as development and reproduction. For instance, information in the kangaroo and other marsupial genomes may provide insights into the nature of gene regulation during mammalian development.
“Kangaroos are a marvelous model for studying human development and reproduction because they are born very early and complete much of their development in the pouch rather than the womb,” University of Melbourne zoologist Marilyn Renfree said in a statement. “This makes them a powerful tool for studying the genes and hormones involved in mammalian reproduction and development.”
Renfree is taking over as KanGO director today.
KanGO was established in early 2004 with funding from the Australian Research Council, partner institutions, and the Victoria government. In 2007, the project received renewed funding as an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for 2008 through 2010.
The Tammar Wallaby Genome Sequencing Project also received funding from commercial entities and the US National Institutes of Health. Whole-genome shotgun sequencing efforts for the project so far have taken place at the Australian Genome Research Facility and Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center.
The tammar wallaby is being used as a model kangaroo because it is easily bred in a research setting and has proven valuable for studying kangaroo physiology, development, and ecology. Its genome is an estimated 3.3 billion base pairs.
The goal of the KanGO project, according to the organization’s web site, is to “map and provide essential data for the completion of the sequence and assembly of the entire wallaby genome as a representative kangaroo and to explore functional biology of marsupial models for understanding genomics, reproduction, and development of mammals.”
Outgoing KanGO Director Jenny Graves, a researcher affiliated with the Australian National University and the University of Melbourne, said the wallaby genome map will be crucial for navigating the kangaroo genome.
“Now the world can use information on kangaroo genes and sequences to explore how mammals develop and function,” she said. “Australia’s weird and wonderful animals are making crucial contributions.”