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Kangaroo Genome Bounds Ahead

By Kate Ruder

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One million tamar wallabies live on Kangaroo Island, Australia’s largest island.
Australian scientists have raised enough money to move ahead in partnership with U.S. scientists to sequence the genome of the kangaroo.

Last year, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, agreed to sequence the kangaroo if Australians could raise half the cash for the project, but even a few months ago it was uncertain whether Aussies would deliver.

Now, the Australian state government of Victoria has pledged $3.2 million for the kangaroo genome project, researchers announced this week at a biotechnology meeting in San Francisco, California.

This sealed the deal for the NHGRI, which will partner with Australian scientists to sequence the genome of 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.

It will be the second marsupial—animals that develop in an outside pouch—to have its genome sequenced. The gray, short-tailed, South American opossum will be sequenced by the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Marsupials, which shared a common ancestor with humans about 130 million years ago, are more distant relatives of humans than other sequenced mammals, like the mouse and chimp. Comparing human and marsupial genomes could reveal aspects of human ancestry and evolution.

The developing young in kangaroos have been studied extensively. A wallaby embryo develops for only 26 days inside the mother before it is born and then climbs up to its mother’s pouch.

Actual sequencing will take place at both the Australian Genome Research Facility (AGFR) in Melbourne, Victoria, and Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

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