Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Monkey business - Proboscis Monkey genome sequencing

IN January, American researchers published the draft genome sequence for one of Malaysia’s most iconic animals, the orang utan. This made the orang utan the third non-human primate to have its genome sequenced, after the chimpanzee and the rhesus macaque.

Not wanting to be left behind, Malaysia is now getting into the act of sequencing the proboscis monkey, an endangered species that resides here. According to Prof Dr Rofina Yasmin Othman, the proboscis monkey project will be Malaysia’s first effort to sequence, assemble and analyse the genome of an endangered primate.

“Since the proboscis monkey genome has never been sequenced before, it will require a computationally and intellectually intensive effort to assemble the sequenced DNA into a complete, whole genome,” explains Dr Rofina, who is the head of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation’s (Mosti) National Biotechnology Division.

“This will be followed by bioinformatics analysis to better understand the proboscis monkey’s physiology and genetics. As no reference proboscis genome exists, the proboscis genome project will require very complex de novo (from the beginning) sequencing and assembly that will be relatively costly. As an example, the first de novo sequencing and assembly of the orang utan genome announced in January cost US$20mil (RM61mil), whereas subsequent resequencing efforts will only cost US$20,000 to US$30,000 (RM61,000 to RM91,500) .”

So to sequence the proboscis monkey genome, it will cost the ministry nearly RM8mil at least.

According to Mosti, there are fewer than 3,000 proboscis monkeys left in the wild (in various parts of Borneo), and this species does not survive easily in captivity, hence the need to sequence their genome.

For this project, Mosti will work on proboscis monkeys from both Sabah and Sarawak in order to look at the genetic difference in the two main populations.

“Such an approach has been successfully used by Australian scientists studying the Tasmanian devil, where informative genetic markers were used to gauge the ancestry between animals,” says Dr Rofina.

“This knowledge can then be used to tailor breeding programmes to maintain biodiversity, and the resulting genomic data may be able to assist in enhancing conservation and breeding programmes. Furthermore, the availability of the complete genome sequence of the proboscis monkey will also enable the study of evolutionary relatedness to other mammals.”

According to her, the experience gained from this project will set the foundation for genomic studies of other Malaysian fauna and flora.

“In this way, genomics provides us with a deeper understanding of our rich biodiversity with a view to protecting, preserving, and exploring its usefulness. The data to be generated by both projects (MyGenome and the proboscis monkey genome sequencing) will provide numerous downstream research opportunities.”



ToddCo said...

I didn't know about the genome sequencing project. I just got back from Borneo and can certainly see how their population is shrinking. I wanted to introduce you to my website section devoted to Proboscis Monkeys, which includes my recent 2011 proboscis monkey photography:

Todd @ Visit50 said...

I moved my site to Visit50.com and added more Probiscis Monkey photos -