Categorized | Research

The links in genomes between humans and gorillas

gorillaThe human genome project was one among the most ambitious projects and a lot has been revealed from the results. A decade ago, a few scientists showed the world, the sequence of the entire human genome. Since the completion of this ardent project, scientists have been trying to unravel the genetic sequence of the apes- with whom we shared our ancestors some ten million years ago. After the successful completion of the gene sequence of the other apes like chimpanzee (which was published in the year 2005) and orangutan (published in 2011), gorillas now have their complete gene sequence analyzed.

The results reveal a close association between the human genome and that of the gorillas. The astonishing fact is that parts of the human genome share a higher degree of similarity with the genomes of the gorilla’s than that of the chimp’s. In fact, the gorillas share the same set of genes that highlight our unique evolutionary pattern. The genetic sequence analysed was that of a western lowland gorilla, a female, named Kamillah, who lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The DNA of other gorillas were also sequenced; that includes two more western lowland gorillas and one eastern lowland gorilla, which is a rare species.

A group of scientists, led by researchers from Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in Hinxton, near Cambridge, reported in Nature, that the human genome is more than 98 percent similar to that of the chimp’s. To be precise, the percentage of difference between the genomes of the two species is just 1.37 %. They also revealed that the humans and gorillas have about 1.75 percent difference in their genes, whereas the orangutans and humans have a 3.6 percent difference in their gene sequence. It was also revealed that the base pairing of DNA, was found to be similar in both humans and apes.

The lead researcher of the study, Aylwyn Scally says that the functional biology of humans more closely resembles the gorilla than the chimp. Though the chimps are the human’s closest relative, a good 15 % of the human genome closely resembles the gorilla genome. Similar gene activity patterns were also noted between the two organisms. This study on genomes sheds light on the evolutionary studies. Scally’s team suggest that humans and chimps evolved into separate beings, some 6 million years ago. They point out that interbreeding could be reason for the delay in the segregation of DNA into two unique genomes.

The team also suggests that the evolution of gorillas got separated from the line of humans and chimps around 10 million years ago. The study also revealed that the evolution of genes was largely due to natural selection. In apes and humans, approximately 500 genes have evolved in a fast manner. In gorillas genes responsible for hardening of skin evolved rapidly. The hearing genes and genes responsible for brain development in humans and gorillas also showed accelerated evolution. The genomes of eastern and western lowland gorillas were also compared and the scientists showed that these species split about 500,000 years ago, but they had continued to interbreed.

Much more information remains to be explored from the genome study of gorillas and apes. Ajit Varki, a gylcobiologist and ape expert at the University of California agrees that this study has exposed much information regarding the speciation, mechanisms, evolution and gene flow between the species. Varki was not a part of the study and he is positive that this study will benefit several other researchers.

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