BERLIN—A better understanding of the genetic makeup of our closest and most distant mammalian relations is shedding new light on the human genome, researchers told the Human Genome Meeting here on Monday (April 5).

At the distant end of the spectrum, Australian researchers want to begin large-scale sequencing of the kangaroo genome. With about 180 million years of independent evolution separating humans from the jumping marsupials, there are few mammals that are more distant from us, and that offers unique opportunities.

“The platypus is even more distantly related, and they're going to be important too, but the platypus isn't your normal experimental animal,” Jenny Graves from the Australian National University told The Scientist. For one thing, she said, they are nearly impossible to breed in captivity.

Focusing on the kangaroo as a good example of a remote relative is “turning out to be a very effective way to spot...

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