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Scientists to sequence giant panda genome
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Scientists from China, Canada, the United States and other countries launched a project Thursday to sequence the genome of the giant panda.

"The goal of this project is to finish the sequencing and assembling of a draft sequence within six months," said Dr. Zhu Hongmei, a scientist with the Beijing Genomics Institute's Shenzhen branch (BGI Shenzhen), a core participant in the project.

Data from the International Giant Panda Genome Project, which was carried out jointly by scientists from China, Britain, the United States, Denmark and Canada, were expected to have an extensive impact on numerous scientific areas -- from ecology to evolution to sequencing technology, according to BGI Shenzhen scientists.

Results of the current sequencing were also expected to contribute to the understanding of the genetic and biological underpinnings of the giant panda, which would subsequently help protect and monitor the endangered species and control diseases that could devastate them.

"The most noteworthy aspect of the project is that it is the first genome project to be undertaken specifically to gather information that will contribute to conservation efforts for an endangered species," said Oliver Ryder of the San Diego Zoo's Center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Species.

"The giant panda is a global conservation symbol and deserving of such an effort," he added.

"The project will help scientists understand the genetic basis for the giant panda's adaptation to its special diet and behavioral style and reveal the history of their population isolation and migration,"said Zhang Yaping, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Director of the Kunming Institute of Zoology.

Dr. Lin He, a profess with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University noted that the gene sequence obtained from this project would greatly increase people's understanding of the reduced fecundity of pandas who live under certain environmental conditions.

"The project is really ambitious and we are looking forward to it," said Fan Zhiyong, Species Program Director of the World Wildlife Fund China.

The panda whose DNA will be sequenced for the project will be chosen from among those at the Chengdu and Wolong breeding centers.

Besides producing a high-quality genome sequence, researchers will do a survey of the genetic variations in the panda population.

The genome size of the giant panda is approximately the same as that of humans.

The giant panda, often referred to as a living fossil, has been the focal point of many research projects. It is considered a symbol of China and is one of the mascots for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing.

So far, however, little research has been done on panda DNA.

(Xinhua News Agency March 7, 2008)

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