PAGE 4 OF 4
This newfound interest in mouse lemur research offers a great opportunity for training, says lemur biologist Alison Richard, an HHMI Trustee and professor at Yale University who has worked on the island for decades. “Much of the work establishing mouse lemurs as a model organism could involve Malagasy students,” she says.
Creating a Collaborative Landscape
On their return, Krasnow and his team started planning how to move ahead. In June 2011, Krasnow and Albertelli hosted the first ever mouse lemur meeting, at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus, bringing together field biologists from Madagascar, Europe, and the United States with geneticists, conservation biologists, and model organism experts. “I had not had the opportunity to be in the same workshop with so many other types of researchers,” says Anne Yoder, who runs the Duke Lemur Center at Duke University, a sanctuary that studies lemur behavior and conservation. “It was neat to see what the collaborative landscape might look like.”
One outcome is that Krasnow’s group and others have committed to studying mouse lemurs without sacrificing them, instead turning to genetics, imaging, and other noninvasive techniques honed through the study of other model organisms. “There are huge opportunities in bringing to bear today’s research tools on existing samples from lab colonies and field studies, for the benefit of humans and lemurs alike,” Krasnow says.
“For decades Madagascar has been seen as a hotspot for biodiversity, and rightly so.”
The biggest area for immediate impact is genetics and genomics. The June meeting spurred a renewed effort to complete the mouse lemur genome, says Jeff Rogers of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center. That could help researchers analyze the thousands of existing tissue samples for genetic connections to disease, including the Alzheimer’s-like syndrome found in these animals, and help to identify what DNA sequences are highly conserved between mouse lemurs and humans.
“It is so beneficial for us to have a community of investigators focused on doing research on mouse lemurs,” Rogers says. “The opportunity to combine years of background information concerning both wild and captive mouse lemurs with new genetic and genomic data is very exciting.”
At Stanford, Krasnow and his group are pushing forward with mouse lemur research, starting with seeking out additional samples and setting up collaborations with Malagasy scientists and other lemur biologists around the world. They think that learning about the genetics and physiology of mouse lemurs could help preserve the endangered animals.
“For decades Madagascar has been seen as a hotspot for biodiversity, and rightly so,” Richard says. “But it is welcome to see that recognition translating into a broader scientific interest in mouse lemurs—primates found nowhere else in the world.”