NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — Researchers have sequenced the genome of the rhesus macaque, the third primate genome to be sequenced, the American Association for the Advancement of Science said today.
In findings detailed in a special issue of the Science dedicated to the macaque project, researchers said the rhesus macaque, also known as Macaca mulatta, is 97.5-percent similar to humans.
That makes it valuable both for its proximity to humans — for which researchers found a link to a mental disorder — and for its relative distance with the chimpanzee, which shares 99 percent of its genes with humans.
The macaque genome, which can be found here, is approximately 2.87 Gb long and includes around 14.9 Gb of raw sequence. There are around 24 million bases in the scaffold sequence, the authors said.
Comparative research into the changes that have taken place in the time since the macaque, an old-world monkey, diverged from humans and chimps 25 million years ago could offer researchers insights into disease research in particular, according to the scientists.
Richard Gibbs, director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center and leader of the project, said the macaque genome “helps illuminate what makes humans different from other apes.”
This information “allows us to learn what has been added or deleted in primate evolution from the rhesus macague to the chimpanzee to the human,” Gibbs added.
The project was performed by more than 100 researchers working with $20 million in funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute. The Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University and the J. Craig Venter Institute contributed significantly to the sequencing project, according to the AAAS.
According to the study, researchers identified around 200 genes that “show evidence of positive selection during evolution, making them potential candidates for determining the differences among primate species.”
The study said those genes are involved in hair formation, immune response, membrane proteins, and sperm-egg fusion.
Other finding with potential medical implications are examples of normal macaque proteins that looked like diseased human proteins, including one diseased protein involved in mental retardation and brain damage.