Washington, March 7 : The Beijing Genomic Institute, Shenzhen (BGI-Shenzhen) has announced the launch of an international project aimed at mapping the giant panda's genome.
"The goal of this project is to finish the sequencing and assembling of the draft sequence within six months," said Dr. Hongmei Zhu, a scientist from BGI-Shenzhen.
Those associated with the International Giant Panda Genome Project said that the information it would furnish would be extremely useful for protecting and monitoring the endangered species, which is considered a symbol of China, as illustrated by its being one of the mascots for the upcoming Olympics in Beijing.
The researchers also believe that understanding the genetic and biological underpinnings of the giant panda, especially with regard to its very specific niche in the environment and the molecular mechanisms of its evolution, may also provide information on the impact of captive breeding.
Besides, the genome project also aims at identifying and controlling diseases that may the species, they say.
According to the researchers, their research may also have far-reaching implications for promoting advances in sequencing tools and techniques because it will be carried out with the help of the latest Now-Gen sequencing technology.
"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. The giant panda is a global conservation symbol and deserving of such an effort," said Oliver Ryder of the San Diego Zoo's Center for Conservation and Research for Endangered Species (CRES).
Ya-Ping Zhang, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Director of the Kunming Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, added: "The genome project will help scientists to understand the genetic basis for giant panda adaptation to its special diet and behavioural style, and to reveal the history of population isolation and migration."
A member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences who works at both Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Fudan University, Dr. Lin He, said that the giant panda genome sequencing would help improve the understanding of their reduced fecundity when living under certain environmental conditions.
Dr. Lin He further said that the sequence would also aid in learning about the interaction between the animal's genetics and the environment, and their impact on the physiology and pathology of the panda.
For the Giant Panda Genome Project, pandas will be chosen from the Chengdu and Wolong breeding centres. Apart from producing a high quality genome sequence, the project will also involve a survey of the genetic variations in the panda population.
The researchers hope that the fine map of the panda's genome and the transcriptome studies may provide an unparalleled amount of information to aid in understanding both current and past status of the species-such as historical population size, current levels of inbreeding, precise estimates of gene-flow, and past connectedness between the two different mountain-top giant panda populations.