Tuesday, 5 April 2016

How closely related are gorillas and humans? Closer than you might think.

APRIL 1, 2016

by Chuck Bednar

A new effort to sequence the gorilla genome has filled in many of the gaps from the first attempt to map the primate's DNA while revealing that they may be more closely related to humans than previously believed, according to research published Friday in the journal Science.

University of Washington professor of genome sciences Evan Eichler and his colleagues used an 11-year-old Western lowland gorilla named Susie as the subject for their sequencing efforts, and found that human and gorilla genomes diverge by just 1.6 percent, Reuters reported on Thursday. Only bonobos and chimpanzees are more closely related to humans, they added.

Among the area of genetic divergence are the immune and reproductive systems, the areas that control sensory perception, those governing the production of the protein keratin (which is used by the body to build hair, skin and fingernails) and those that regulate insulin. Their research has also resulted in the discovery of thousands of new protein and peptide-encoding segments.

The differences between the species “may aid researchers in identifying regions of the human genome that are associated with higher cognition, complex language, behavior and neurological diseases,” study author Christopher Hill, a genetic researcher at UW, told the news agency.

Study could shed new light on evolutionary history of gorillas, humans
The sequencing effort is part of the university’s efforts to compile a comprehensive catalog of genetic differences between humans and all of the great apes, including gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees, Reuters said. A blood sample from Susie, who now lives at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, was taken when she was at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo.

Eichler, Hill and their fellow researchers used Single Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) technology and the assembly tools Falcon and QUIVER as part of their sequencing attempts. In a statement, they explained that these methods allowed them to generate long sequence reads more than 100 times the length of many other, commonly used technologies.

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