The guinea pig Cavia porcellus is native to the Andean mountains, and was domesticated there over 4000 years ago. This species is now extinct in the wild, but it is still a major food source for some indigenous South American peoples. Cavia porcellus is also a popular pet; thirteen guinea pig breeds are raised worldwide. But in science, the guinea pig is best known as one of the gold standards for modelling human disease. It is used as a model for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, leukemia, melanoma, and arthritis, among other disorders. The guinea pig is especially important as a model for the human immune system, as its immunological genes are more similar to human than are the mouse’s genes. It is currently our best model for testing biodefense agents and is critical for vaccine testing. The guinea pig is also useful for toxicological studies, since it is exquisitely sensitive to toxic effects and has similar reactivity to humans.
The Broad Institute originally sequenced the guinea pig to 2X coverage as part of the Mammalian Genome Project to annotate the human genome. We have now sequenced the guinea pig to full (7X) coverage. In addition, we will be obtaining low sequence coverage from two outbred guinea pig strains, one additional inbred strain, and a Peruvian guinea pig as part of a SNP discovery project. We hope that this project will help us understand diversity across guinea pig strains.