First we sequence the orangs and macaques, then gorillas

Perhaps after the announcement of the draft chimpanzee genome, you're feeling the need for another DNA rush. How long will you have to wait for a gorilla sequence? How about an orangutan? Will anybody give me a sifaka? Sifaka, anyone?

A Nature article by reporter Carina Dennis gives some details about the future schedule of genome sequencing in primates and beyond. Here's the marching order:

  1. Rhesus macaque: public draft already available, revised version "expected by the end of the year"
  2. Orangutan: sequencing already underway, draft expected "early next year"
  3. Gorilla: sequencing begins in "October this year", draft assembly expected in "a couple of years"

After that, there are more ideas of what to do. They start to run together like an insane bioprospecting auctioneer:

While some researchers are working on the the youngest shoots of the primate family tree, others are delving at the roots, to understand what the earliest primate genomes were like. To this end molecular palaeontologists are keen to sequence representatives from each of the major primate lineages. The sequencing of the marmoset, a New World monkey, has just begun. "I would also like the lemur sequence," says Asao Fujiyama of the National Institute of Informatics in Tokyo, Japan, who was part of the team that sequenced the first chimpanzee chromosome last year.

I have to say, if your goal is to reconstruct phylogeny, these sequences aren't going to help much more than what we already have. On the other hand, if you want to reconstruct the evolution of these other lineages, you're going to need a whole lot more -- not just one lemur but many, not just marmosets, but other New World monkeys as well.

But the thing is, within the next five to ten years, these kinds of projects become more feasible with off-the-shelf technology. Not entirely so -- the commercialization will use shortcuts like gene chips tuned for human-specific sequences. But substantially, so that the completion of a draft genome assembly for a primate may become feasible for a single research lab on NSF-level money.

Personally, I think it's going to generate more data than anybody will have time to analyze. But people interested in evolution in primates -- from sexual dimorphism and mating systems to social hierarchies and affiliation --- are going to have to know a lot more about genomics, or are going to have to enlist population geneticists in a lot of that work.

And then Zoboomafoo can be a genome model just like Craig Venter.


Dennis C. 2005. Chimp genome: branching out. Nature 437:17-19. Full text (subscription required)