Introduction: why study the genetics of baboons?
Baboons (Papio hamadryas) have been the subject of much scientific investigation. The ecology, behavior, demography, anatomy and physiology of baboons have been examined in detail. This scientific attention has also included a number of studies of specific genes, proteins and non-coding DNA sequences. Genetic research on baboons has usually addressed one of the following three topics. First, some studies have focused on the structure and/or function of specific baboon genes or proteins. Second, some investigations have used baboons as animal models in analyses of genetic factors in common human diseases such as athersclerosis, osteoporosis and hypertension (VandeBerg and Williams-Blangero, 1996). Third, many studies have used genetic data as tools to investigate other aspects of baboon biology, such as comparing reproductive success among competing males or assessing the phylogenetic relationships among Papio and other primate genera.
In the case of baboons, but not all nonhuman primates, the third type of genetic study has been the most common. Some studies have examined proteins or DNA sequences in baboons in order to answer questions concerning social behavior or demography. For example, genetic variation among individual baboons has been used to ascertain paternity for a series of infants and to measure male reproductive success (Altmann et al., 1996). Quantification of genetic variation within natural populations can also lead to insights regarding demography.