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Genome from down under
By Kate Dalke

The kangaroo has hopped into the battle for genome funds. Australian researchers have submitted a proposal to the US National Institutes of Health for money to fund the sequencing of the kangaroo genome.

Tammar wallabies

With a little Aussie luck, kangaroos will become a sequenced species, along with humans, mice and fruit flies, among others.

"There's plenty of national pride for sequencing the kangaroo genome, but no national money," says Jenny Graves of Australian National University in Canberra, who is leading the Kangaroo Genome Project.

Kangaroos are marsupials—animals whose young develop in an outside pouch. The pea-sized baby, called a joey, climbs blindly to its mother's furry pouch, where it will nurse and grow for the next six to nine months.

Marsupials are more distant relatives of humans than other sequenced mammals, like the mouse. Comparing the human and kangaroo genomes could reveal aspects of human ancestry and evolution. It could also provide clues to genomic processes like gene imprinting. Problems with gene imprinting can cause mental retardation and developmental diseases in humans.

The National Human Genome Research Institute—an arm of the NIH—accepts sequencing proposals three times a year and has already given high priority to cow, dog, chimp, chicken, honeybee, sea urchin and fungi. A decision on the kangaroo is expected later this year.

If the Australian researchers win funding, they will sequence a small kangaroo called the tamar wallaby. Wallabies are easy to keep and reproduce well in captivity, so they've been studied extensively in Australia.

Graves says Australia does not have the money to sequence the wallaby itself, so scientists have called on the NIH for help.

She estimates the cost of sequencing the kangaroo genome to be about $50 million.

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