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BGI to Sequence Tiger, Lion, and Leopard Species This Year

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By Julia Karow

Chinese genomics institute BGI and collaborators are embarking on a project to sequence the genomes of the lion, tiger, and leopard, BGI said last week.

The "International Big Cats Genome Project," announced just before the start of the Chinese year of the tiger last weekend, is part of BGI's goal to sequence the genomes of 1,000 plant and animal reference species over the next two years (see In Sequence 1/12/2010).

Starting with the tiger, the plan is to initiate genome projects for a number of species this year, including the Amur tiger, the South China tiger, the Bengal tiger, the Asian lion, the African lion, the cloud leopard, and the snow leopard.

After completion of the tiger and lion genome projects, BGI also plans to sequence the genomes and epigenomes of a cross between a male tiger and a female lion, called a "tigon," and of a cross between a male lion and a female tiger, called a "liger." These projects are "an opportunity to re-explain the definition of 'hybrid' and 'species' from the aspect of DNA sequence and chromatin variation," according to the institute.

Besides BGI, the Big Cats project involves scientists from Peking University, Heilongjiang Manchurian tiger forestry zoo, the Kung Ming Institute of Zoology, the San Diego Zoo's Institute for Conversation Research, and others.

A BGI spokesperson told In Sequence that the institute has an undisclosed amount of funding for the first two available and is currently seeking additional funding for the other genomes. It is also interested in other research groups joining the collaboration, including the data analysis part of the project.

BGI will sequence the genomes using Illumina's HiSeq 2000 platform, and will form a research consortium for the data analysis.

The three zoos involved in the project will provide the DNA samples, although BGI would welcome additional samples, for example to study genetic variation, according to the spokesperson.

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