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At Left, Omer Gokcumen, PhD, foreground, reviews spots of DNA for genetic testing, while Qihui Zhu, PhD, loads a microscopic slide for scanning. At right, Siri the chimpanzee. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino
It’s certainly not every day that the BWH Molecular Genetics Research Unit is asked to assist in efforts to save a chimpanzee’s life. But the team was more than willing to pitch in when the Oklahoma City Zoo asked them to develop a custom genome scan for Siri, a baby chimp.
“We don’t often get an opportunity to provide clinical testing on non-humans,” said Charles Lee, PhD. “It was important information that the zoo’s veterinary staff needed, and our team was thrilled to help.”
At 8 months old, the baby chimp weighed just three and a half pounds and was unable to walk or climb. The zoo’s staff were concerned that she had a genetic disorder and asked Lee if his team could find a way to perform genetic testing for Siri.
Lee’s team designed a new chip—a microscopic slide with about a million spots of DNA that replicated a normal chimpanzee genome. The strategy used was similar to that which they used a few years ago for developing a clinical chip that is currently being used in BWH’s Department of Pathology for advanced clinical genetic testing. They then placed Siri’s DNA onto this array to determine if there were any gains or losses in Siri’s DNA sequence, which would indicate a genetic disorder.
In Siri’s case, there was no evidence genetic disorder.
“The whole thing was quite gratifying to be a part of,” Lee said. “We felt like we made a difference.”
Today, Siri is healthy and growing, according to the zoo.