A recent paper published in the journal Science unveiled the entire genome of the rhesus macaque, an Old World monkey used extensively in medical and biological research. Researchers say the development will be highly informative about diseases in humans.

“The availability of this genome sequence will enable new and better experiments that will speed up the pace of research and reduce the number of animals needed for biomedical research in the long run,” the paper states.

David Glenn Smith, a professor in the department of anthropology and one of the lead authors on a related paper focusing on population studies comparing Indian and Chinese macaques, said an important part of understanding human disease is trying to localize where genes that influence them are found in the genome.

According to Smith, rhesus monkeys are the principal animal model for studies of diseases common in the human population primarily because the two share about 93 percent of their DNA sequence. Chimpanzee genomes had been available before the rhesus sequencing effort, but were not as useful because they diverged recently in evolutionary history from humans, according to the paper.

Smith said in order to understand how genes influence phenotypic effects, researchers will look at genetic differences in various parts of the rhesus genome, thus getting an idea where in the genome there are correlations between different genes and susceptibility to disease.

“The differences between rhesus macaques and humans can be looked at as a genetic difference, and then we can ask where the phenotypic differences are and what genes those phenotypic differences correlate with, and we can find out genetic reasons for humans to be as they are,” he said.

Sreetharan Kanthaswamy, a professional researcher at the California National Primate Research Center in Davis, said the rhesus sequencing will provide a complete pedigree of diseases with a genetic background. Subsequently, knowing how the disease evolved will give researchers a better understanding of how to treat it.

“Now you have this huge toolbox where you have a disease and it’s got an address now and you can pinpoint where this disease lives,” he said.

The CNPRC, according to Smith, is part of a network of eight national primate research centers sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. One center located on the UC Davis campus houses approximately 4,700 monkeys, according to its website.

Smith said the availability of the rhesus monkey genome map will be a boon to the Davis research center, which focuses on assistive reproductive technology and pulmonary and infectious disease research.

Additionally, both researchers agreed that undergraduate students have a unique opportunity in being able to intern and participate in research at the center, setting themselves up for what Kanthaswamy described as the “boom time” for rhesus monkey scientists.