Panda Genome

10 January 2013

Interview with

Nell Barrie

Kat - Now for some other fascinating animals - pandas. I saw in the latest issue of Nature Genetics from Shancen Zhao that they have sequenced the panda genome. What did they find in it?

Nell - So, this was really looking at how different populations of pandas are different in their genetics because we know that there's many different populations of pandas in China that are quite isolated from one another because of habitat changes, all that kind of thing. And what they found is that these different populations are actually evolving differently which is quite cool, so it's showing kind of real-life evolution happening now.

Kat - I thought one of the interesting things was they've identified evolutionary bottle necks, and all sorts of things, but they managed to show that it looks like human activities have had an effect on the pandas in over the past 3,000 years or so.

Nell - Exactly, yes. So it's looking at kind of how the habitats have changed, where the pandas are living and there's one nice example where some of the panda's taste receptors are actually evolving because of the type of food that it's eating in the environment that it's living in, so that's quite nice. And they even get in the nice phrase, 'The panda eats shoots and leaves' which I enjoyed for grammar pedants out there. I liked that one.

Kat - The other bit I really liked in the report is that they sequenced the genomes of 34 pandas and that's actually 1 in 50 wild pandas which is a recruitment rate to their study which is absolutely phenomenal.

Nell - Exactly, yeah so they say that's something that human geneticists would be really, really amazed and then they could only dream of recruitment rates like that. But, pandas obviously weren't consenting to this in the same way that humans would be, so probably a little bit easier.

Kat - And they're very cute as well. Thanks very much, Nell. That's Nell Barrie, science writer.

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