Writing in the cover story of the current issue of the American Journal of Primatology, researchers headed by Randall Kyes of the University of Washington report that the Nepali macaques are more closely related genetically to rhesus macaques from India than rhesus macaques of China.
This is important because Indian-origin animals have been used for more than half a century in biomedical and behavioral research. Rhesus macaques have contributed to the discovery of vaccines to prevent diseases such as polio and yellow fever, and represent one of the most widely used primate models for AIDS-related research. India, however, banned the export of all macaques in 1978, thus leading to the current shortage. Although China has been exporting captive-bred animals for sometime, scientists have noted a number of behavioral and physiological differences in disease progression between animals from the two countries, and the Indian-origin macaques are generally preferred in research on certain diseases.
The new study was spearheaded by Kyes, a primatologist and head of the UW's Division of International Programs at the Washington National Primate Research Center, in collaboration with Mukesh Chalise, president of the Nepal Biodiversity Research Society and a zoologist at Tribhuvan University in Nepal.
Blood samples from 21 Nepali rhesus macaques living at a temple site in Kathmandu were obtained as part of a comprehensive health screening conducted at the temple. These samples were compared with existing samples collected from more than 300 Indian- and Chinese-origin rhesus macaques.