Northern Aye-ayes give the middle finger to the rest of Madagascar

The stuff of nightmares

The stuff of nightmares

Genomic sequencing has come a long way since the Human Genome Project wrapped up five years earlier than expected in the year 2000. It took researchers 10 years and more than $2 billion to get the initial first draft of a person’s completely genetic makeup.

Today, you can spit in a test tube, mail it to a company, and get your own genome sent back to you in six to eight weeks for less than $100. Now if that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

But the amazing advances in genome sequencing technology doesn’t end at just finding out whether or not you’re susceptible to genetic diseases. And it doesn’t just end with humans, either. It seems like every other week or so a new animal, bacteria, or virus has it’s genome sequenced and mapped, adding to the treasure trove of genetic data amassing in databanks across the world.

Wondering where the original lager yeast came from? Sequence the genomes of yeast from everywhere you can, even Patagonia. Care about basic research and the breeding of fruit flies for inheritance studies? Get that little sucker’s genome sequenced! Hell, you can even sequence the genome of extinct species like the dodo bird in hopes that scientists may eventually clone them back into existence.

In all honesty, it gets a little tiresome. Universities are always throwing out press releases about which genome was most recently mapped by their scientists. It’s old hat by now.

The question is, what are they now going to do with that data?

Oh dear god

Oh dear god

A new study from Penn State University recently mapped out the genome of the aye-aye – a really weird looking lemur that lives on Madagascar. While the press release gets the headline wrong (“Endangered Lemurs’ Complete Genomes are Sequenced…” yawn), there are actually some interesting results to be gleaned from the new data.

The most interesting tidbit of info I’d say is the fact that, despite being separated by only 160 miles, two distinct populations of the species have lived apart from each other longer than present-day Africans and Europeans have. That is, aye-ayes that live in the north are more genetically distinct from aye-ayes that live in the eastern areas of Madagascar than Africans and Europeans are to one another. This indicates that the two populations of aye-ayes haven’t interbred much at all since more than 2,300 years ago.

That’s pretty astounding. I mean, think about it. It’s sort of like if half of the people in Boston moved to a vacant New York City and set up shop before Jesus was born and barely interacted since.

The paper blames high and extensive plateaus and major rivers for separating the two. But I know what’s really to blame. Those damn northern aye-ayes brought Tofurky to Thanksgiving one year and have since refused to apologize.

The paper, “Aye-aye population genomic analysis highlight an important center of endemism in northern Madagascar,” was published by Pennsylvania State University researchers Goerge Perry and Webb Miller, and by Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s Edward Louis.

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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