Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 15:45 UK

Giant panda genome project begins

Giant Panda (Picture: Yange Yong )
The giant panda is only found in a mountainous region of China

Scientists from Cardiff University are working on the first genome project detailing the genetic make up of the endangered giant panda.

Researchers from the Cardiff School of Biosciences will work with colleagues across the world on the project.

Professor Mike Bruford said it was the first time an endangered species had been deliberately sequenced.

He said they hoped the work will give them an insight into the panda's history and a window into the future.

Previous research by Prof Bruford found the decline of the giant panda can be linked directly to human activities rather than a genetic inability to adapt and evolve.

However, little research has been carried out on a genomic scale and it is hoped the first research from this latest study will be available next year.

Genetic variation

The giant panda genome is approximately the same size as the human genome, and is thought to have between 20,000 and 30,000 genes.

Prof Bruford said: "This international collaboration will help scientists to understand the genetic basis for the giant panda's unique adaptations, including its dietary specialisation, and will reveal the history of the species in unparalleled detail."

Hundreds of colleagues from universities in China, the USA and Canada will be taking part in the research.

"Our interest is in generic variation," said Prof Bruford.

"We are particularly interested in the effects of demographic isolation (on the panda) and the fact that their populations are very fragmented and very small."

Previous research carried out by Professor Bruford and the school of biosciences two years ago, profiling DNA from panda faeces, found some evidence that there are actually more of the giant pandas living in the mountains of China than the previous estimate of just 1,600.

The panda is often referred to as a "living fossil" as their is evidence that its ancestors existed in China more than 8m years ago.

Giant Panda (Picture: Yange Yong )
Latest estimates are there could be more than 2,000 giant pandas left

Prof Bruford said: "Pandas have lived in a large and expanding human population for thousands of years."

In comparison orang-utans whose numbers are also in decline have only been living in the same way for hundreds of years.

The panda genome research would given scientists a "window into the future" said the professor, to help other endangered species.

Wales' environment minister Jane Davidson has praised the biodiversity research taking place at the university school of biosciences.

She said: "Protecting biodiversity - so that it can provide essential ecosystem services that will help us to deal with social, economic and environmental changes - will be an essential ingredient of our success in achieving the future we want for Wales."


SEE ALSO
Giant panda ancestor not so giant
18 Jun 07 |  Science/Nature
Freed Chinese panda dies in wild
31 May 07 |  Asia-Pacific

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