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The death of a very special chimpanzee

CLINT, the chimpanzee whose genome sequence will soon be published, has died. His demise has sparked a debate about whether more effort should be made to preserve samples from the individuals that are sequenced.

"The manifestations of these sequenced genomes must be preserved for posterity. If anyone wants to go back and study them, they have to have something to go to," says Robert Hanner of the Coriell Institute for Medical Research in Camden, New Jersey. "We have already missed many opportunities. It's a damn shame." Like other creatures whose genomes have been sequenced, including entrepreneur Craig Venter and his poodle Shadow, Clint was the living reference point for millions of dollars' worth of genetic code. One of the reasons he was chosen was his youth and clean bill of health: if researchers needed to take more tissue samples to validate the DNA sequence, he would be around to provide them. And as insights into the function of his genes emerged, they would be able to examine his morphology, behaviour and physiology.

But Clint has been put down aged just 24, New Scientist has learned. The Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, where Clint was kept, will not say what disease he was suffering from.

Hanner has convinced the primate centre to let him ship Clint's body to a museum. Curators there will preserve his remains, but it is unclear if any samples were taken and frozen immediately after his death, before decay set in. It would be a shame if this has not been done, says Evan Eichler of the University of Washington in Seattle, who works on the chimp genome. Two years ago, he worked with Yerkes to set up a programme to keep close watch on sick primates to ensure rapid tissue collection when an animal dies. "It doesn't cost very much," he says.

The Coriell Institute does have two cell lines from Clint, which can be used to work out any kinks and gaps in the chimp sequence. But living cell lines are not th
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5-Jan-2005


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