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Scientists Announce Sequencing of the Aye-Aye Lemur's Genome

Mar 25, 2013 05:58 PM EDT

Anyone familiar with the movie "Madagascar" is familiar with the aye-aye lemur in the form of characters Julien and Maurice.

Nearly eight years after the first movie was released, however, the lemur is gaining media attention once again as scientists announce they have completed sequencing the animal's genome.

In doing so, researchers realized that the three species of aye-aye lemurs are much more distantly related than previously thought, in particular the northern and eastern populations, according to a press release regarding the study.

Webb Miller, Penn State professor of biology and computer science and engineering, states in the release that the reason for this likely resides in the fact that although the populations are only separated by 160 miles, major rivers and extensive plateaus stand in their way, making interbreeding more difficult.

What's more, Miller believes that, according to the data, this separation took place before humans came burning down their habitats and hunting them down.

Both of these factors remain a problem today. In fact, the aye-aye lemur is particular hunted due to local beliefs that it is a "demon primate" capable of killing simply by pointing its finger at something, or someone. It currently resides on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "near-threatened" list.

The study was done by a team at Penn State. George H. Perry, an assistant professor of anthropology and biology led the study. He was joined by Webb Miller and Edward Louis, the director of conservation genetics at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and director of the Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership NGO.

Perry hopes to use the research to help the lemur survive.

"We were looking to make use of new genomic-sequencing technologies to characterize patterns of genetic diversity among some of the surviving aye-aye populations, with an eye towards the prioritization of conservation efforts," he states in the press release.

In all, scientists have sequenced a significant part of 140 species of mammal's genome since the human genome was first decoded over a decade ago.

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