Humans are genetically closer to gorilla than thought before

Humans are genetically closer to gorilla than thought before

Researchers from Insitute for Evolutionary Biology have helped to decipher the genome of the gorilla, the living ape closest to humans and chimpanzees, with which they shared a common ancestor about eight million years ago. This study is a collaboration of more than 20 laboratories in 7 countries. The Spanish contribution to the work published in Nature has been directed by Dr. Tomas Marques-Bonet, ICREA researcher at IBE.



Humans share a lot of genes with gorillas 

After comparing thousands of genes shared among the great apes, this study suggests that groups of genes related to auditory perception and brain development are among the ones that fastest changed in gorilla and human lineages. This would suggest that certain features generally associated with humans, as the evolution of auditory genes associated with language, would not be unique to our species but shared with gorillas.

Moreover, and surprisingly, the genetic comparison of these genomes has confirmed that, taken as a whole, the human genome is more similar to the chimpanzee genome, but in almost a third of the human genome, this ratio is broken and either the gorilla is evolutionarily closest to human or the chimpanzee closest to gorilla.

"This approach is really novel because it breaks with the traditional evolutionary belief that humans and chimpanzees share more genetic variants across the genome, and  also allows us to quantify this statement for the first time," says the researcher Javier Prado. "Knowledge on the evolution of this genome will help us to understand the basic processes of behavior and speciation that led our species to be unique. This basic knowledge can then be transferred to the better understanding of certain diseases, "says Tomas Marques-Bonet, co-author.

The gorillas had survived until today in just a few isolated populations in the equatorial forests of central Africa and are in danger of extinction. They are seriously threatened and their number decreases dramatically. Studies with primates not only inform us about human evolution, but also highlight the importance of protecting and conserving the diversity of these species. 

Spanish contribution

This study has counted with the contribution of Tomas Marques Bonet and Javier Prado Martinez, researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint research center of the UPF and CSIC).

Dr. Marques-Bonet led the analysis of the structural organization of the genome in comparison to other hominids. Both researchers are responsible for the comparative analysis between different species of gorillas, leading to the first estimates of structural diversity in gorillas.

Reference Work

Scally et al. 'Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence'. Published in Nature March 8 DOI: 10.1038/nature10842

Related news: 08/03/2012 UPF news, 08/03/2012CSIC news 08/03/2012