Chimp Sequencing Wins Commitments
Dennis Normile

March 19, 2001; Tokyo, JAPAN ( ScienceNOW) -- An international team of researchers is cobbling together an effort to sequence the Chimpanzee Genome. So far, the big global genome players aren't joining the party. But scientists from smaller genome centers are making commitments to the project, ScienceNOW has learned from participants in a conference here. Yoshiyuki Sakaki, Director of the Human Genome Research Group at RIKEN's Genomic Sciences Center in Yokohama, JAPAN, said last week that sequencing the chimp genome should help to answer basic questions about evolution. Only a chimp-human comparison "will show what makes humans human," he says. Others predict the chimp genome will be useful for research on human diseases.

Rumors were rife at the meeting that Celera Genomics of Rockville, MD, one of two teams that sequenced the human genome, might turn its large bank of sequencing machines over to the chimp genome. But Celera's President, Dr, J. Craig Venter, says his company has no plans to do so. "[The chimp sequence] is too close to [humans] to be really useful at this stage," Venter told ScienceNOW

That lack of interest has left a niche for groups with smaller sequencing operations. Rather than join U.S. efforts to sequence the mouse, Sakaki says, "We wanted to do something where we could play a bigger role." The sentiment was echoed by representatives of sequencing centers in Germany, China, Taiwan, and Korea. Park Hong-Seog, a molecular biologist at the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology in Taejon, says his colleagues feel they largely missed out on the human genome sequencing effort. "Participating in the ape genome sequencing effort would be an attractive way for us to contribute," he says. Sakaki expects to divide up the work according to areas of interest, following a formal cooperative agreement to be struck "within a few months."