Cornell experts in computational biology and bioinformatics have made key contributions to the analysis of the genome of the rhesus macaque, better known as the rhesus monkey. The Cornell researchers were part of a consortium of some 200 scientists around the world whose work is reported in a special section of the April 13 issue of the journal Science.
The rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) is physiologically similar to humans and therefore widely used in medical research, particularly in vaccine testing and as a model for AIDS research. Understanding its genome and how it differs from that of human beings promises to offer new insights into the evolution of humans and other primates and has important implications for medical research.(see two stories below).
After the macaque genome was sequenced in 2005, additional scientists, including a Cornell team, were recruited to analyze the results. Richard Gibbs of Baylor College of Medicine oversaw the entire project. The work at Cornell was performed mainly by research groups under Adam Siepel and Carlos Bustamante, assistant professors of biological statistics and computational biology, with assistance from Andrew Clark, professor of molecular biology and genetics. To analyze the genome, which consists of 2.9 billion DNA base pairs, the researchers used a dedicated computational biology cluster at the Cornell Theory Center, a supercomputer with 1,234 parallel processors.
Finding clues to human evolution
Siepel's group studied genes that were found to be common to humans, macaques and chimpanzees. (The chimpanzee genome was sequenced in September 2005.) They identified 10,376 genes whose function is at least partially known, and looked for differences that would show how evolution had progressed.
"Before this paper, analyses of this kind had focused on human and chimp, and they're so close that it's not as interesting," Siepel says. "The macaque gives us the ability to more sen
Contact: Blaine Friedlander
Cornell University News Service