Giant panda research experts Pan Wenshi
(L), Hou Rong (C), and Tian Geng pose for a photo in front of the genome
of giant pandas in Shenzhen, south China, on Oct. 11, 2008. The
announcement that Chinese scientists have completed sequencing the genome
of giant pandas was made in Shenzhen on Saturday. (Xinhua
SHENZHEN, Oct. 11 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists have
completed sequencing the genome of giant pandas. The announcement was made here
They hope the new information will give them a better
biological understanding of why pandas eat bamboo, have black circles around
their eyes and produce few offspring.
"By sequencing the giant panda
genome we've laid the genetic and biological foundation for us to gain a deeper
understanding of the peculiar species," said Dr. Wang Jun, a scientist with the
Beijing Genomics Institute's Shenzhen branch (BGI Shenzhen), a core participant
in the project.
A researcher shows a blood sample of a
panda at the China Giant Panda Research Center in Wolong, Sichuan
Province, in this file photo taken on March 20, 2008. (Xinhua
So far, scientists learned, through drawing and
assembling the genome sequence, that giant pandas are akin to dogs and human
beings but are very different from mice.
They also discovered more supporting evidence that
giant pandas might be a subspecies of black bears.
Giant pandas, known for being sexually inactive, are
among the world's most endangered animals due to a shrinking habitat. It's one
reason why scientists decided to sequence its genome.
"It will help genetically explain why giant pandas
have poor reproductive abilities, so that scientists can help them deliver more
cubs," Wang said.
Enhanced disease control was
another benefit of the study, Wang said.
Researchers get blood sample from a
giant panda at the China Giant Panda Research Center in Wolong, southwest
China's Sichuan Province, in this file photo taken on March 20,
2008. (Xinhua Photo)
The International Giant Panda Genome Project started
in March 2008 with scientists from China, Britain, the United States, Denmark
According to BGI Shenzhen scientists, data from the
project is expected to have an extensive impact on various scientific areas such
as ecology, evolution and sequencing technology.
A three-year-old female panda, named Jing Jing, from
the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda breeding in southwest China's Sichuan
Province, was chosen by scientists for the genome sequencing. Jing Jing was also
the prototype of one of the five mascots of the Beijing Olympics.
"We have done such a huge amount of research that if
we compile a book with the genome sequence, the height would be equal to the
landmark 384-meter Diwang Tower of Shenzhen," Wang said.
There are about 1,590 pandas living in China's wild,
mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu.
In 2007, there were 239 captive-bred giant pandas in
Yang Huanming, another scientist at BGI Shenzhen,
said his colleagues will work on mapping out a more detailed genome sequence of
the panda by the end of this year.
Chinese scientists have made big improvements in gene
studies and genome sequencing in the past few years through their own efforts
and participation in a series of international projects, Yang said.
Chinese scientists have contributed to the genome
sequencing of a rice paddy, silkworm, hen and pig. In October last year, they
finished sequencing the first Han Chinese genome, Yang said.
(Reporting by Peng Yong in Shenzhen, Writing by Li Jianmin in Beijing)