Catalog Genetic Diversity Great Apes Primate Evolution and Conservation Mapping the Future


Through the study of human genetic variation, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, researchers were able to build a model that describes the history of great apes throughout the last 15 million years. Catalog the genetic diversity of the great apes most comprehensive ever have explained the evolutionary history and great ape populations from Africa and Indonesia. These resources also can help conservation efforts in the present and the future to preserve the genetic diversity of the various populations in the wild.

About 75 scientists and wildlife conservationists from around the world took part in producing a genetic analysis of 79 great apes in the wild and that has been in captivity since birth. Apes represent all six species of great apes: the chimpanzee, bonobo, Sumatran orangutan, Bornean orangutan, eastern gorilla and western lowland gorillas, and seven other subspecies. Nine of the human genome also included a sample.

"This study provides the most in the survey to date of genetic diversity in great apes, and to provide insight into evolutionary divergence and emergence of species of great apes," said Evan Eichler, professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington and a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Genetic variation among the great apes has not been mapped extensively considering the difficulty of obtaining genetic specimens of wild monkeys. Research team's efforts in this mapping project successfully realized thanks to the aid of the data collection of conservationists in many countries.

"This data collection is very important to understand the differences between species of great apes, as well as the separate aspects of the genetic code that distinguishes humans from other primates," said Peter H. Sudmant, a graduate of the University of Washington in the field of genome science. Analysis of genetic diversity of great apes can be useful to expose on how natural selection, growth and decline in population, geographic isolation and migration, climate change and geology, as well as other factors at work in shaping the evolution of primates.

According Sudmant, with more studying genetic diversity in great apes, it contributes also generate knowledge about disease susceptibility among species of primates. This knowledge is very useful for conservation and for human health.

"Because of the way we think, communicate and act is a characteristic that makes us human, then in particular we are looking for the genetic differences between humans and other great apes that may provide these properties," added Sudmant. Differences of this species allows researchers discovered parts of the human genome associated with cognition, speech or behavior, not necessarily indicate the types of mutations that may underlie neurological diseases.

In one of two studies in the project, and Eichler Sudmant accidentally discovered the first genetic evidence in chimpanzees associated with a disorder that resembles the Smith-Magenis syndrome, a condition of physical paralysis, mental and behavior in humans. Strikingly, the symptoms seen in chimpanzee named Suzie-A, almost exactly the same as Smith-Magenis symptoms in humans, such as being overweight, irritability, bone bends and death from renal failure.

The discovery was made when researchers are exploring and comparing the copy number variants accumulated throughout the evolution of the great apes. Varian has a copy number differences between individuals, populations or species on a number of occurrences of certain DNA segments are repeated. Duplications and deletions of DNA segments is re-structuring the genome of humans and great apes, as well as the cause behind the occurrence of various genetic diseases.

In addition to giving an overview on the origins of humans and a variety of illnesses, genetic diversity resources of this monkey would be useful to help save the great ape species on the brink of extinction. These resources provide an important tool for biologists to identify the origin of the great apes who have been the target of hunters in the wild. The study also explains why breeding programs in zoos today, which aims to strive to increase genetic diversity in populations of great apes in captivity, causing genetic differences between apes and polulasi captive apes in the wild.

"By avoiding inbreeding in order to produce a diverse population, zoos and conservation groups, may have completely eroded the specific genetic signals in certain populations within specific geographic location in the wild," explains Sudmant. One captive apes that are examined in this study, named Donald, has the genetic makeup of two different subspecies of chimpanzees, which are located apart from each other by more than 2000 km.

This study also breaks down the many changes that occur along the ape lineage as the separation between them through the events of migration, changes in geological and climate change. Formation of the river, the separation of the island from the mainland and other natural disturbances play a role isolate groups of monkeys. Isolated population must then face unique environmental pressures, causing population fluctuations and adaptation depending on the circumstances. Although early human-like species living in the future in conjunction with some of the great ape ancestors at this time, but it was found that the evolutionary history of the ancestors of great ape populations are far more complex than humans.

Compared with our closest relatives, chimpanzees, human history appear "almost boring", node Sudmant and mentor, Evan Eicher. Chimpanzee evolutionary history over the past millions of years filled with the population explosion, followed by explosions inside that show remarkable plasticity. However, it is yet unknown what the reason chimpanzee population size fluctuations occurred long before the explosion of the human population.

Sudmant said that his interest in studying great apes, and the desire to preserve the great ape species, rooted in common great apes with humans, and their curiosity about us. "If you looked at chimps or gorillas, they looked back at you," he said, "They act like us. We need to find a way to protect valuable species from extinction. "

Research for genetic analysis is described in two papers: "Great ape genetic diversity and population history," publicized in the journal Nature, and "Evolution and diversity of copy number variation in the great ape lineage," made public in Genome Research, possible with the support of NIH and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.