Scientists excited over findings in gorilla genome research

Scientists excited over findings in gorilla genome research

Researchers fill in gaps from previous gorilla genomes.

Geneticists at the University of Washington’s Eicher lab have completed their research on the gorilla genome, which may lead to important breakthroughs in biological information, not only the about apes, but humans as well, according to CS Monitor.

Christopher Hill, a co-author on the new study, said one of the team’s goals was to create a comprehensive catalog of the known differences between great apes and humans.  Those differences could aid research to identify the regions of the human genome that are associated with cognition, behavior and neurological diseases, and having genomes that were accurate and complete will allow that research to continue.

The first lowland gorilla genome was sequenced in 2012, but that construction contained a large number of gaps.  The new research was able to close 90 percent of those gaps, using long-read sequencing technology.

Hill and his fellow researchers used an 11-year-old gorilla named Susie, who lived at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago at the time, for their research,and are calling the new genome Susie3.  And the findings are already providing some surprising results.

Dr. Hill said the new genome assembly is painting a slightly different picture of the evolutionary history of the Western lowland gorilla.  “Prior studies have shown that the gorilla population underwent a bottleneck 50,000 years ago, but analyses on the new genome shows that the bottleneck was more severe than we previously thought. Furthermore, patterns of genetic variation within the gorilla genome can provide evidence of how disease, climate change, and human activity affect lowland gorilla populations,” commented Hill.

The researchers are already moving to complete genomes of other ape family members, including chimpanzees, orangutans and even humans.  They expect these types of advances to lead to future breakthroughs on the genetics of cognition and behavior.

Although the new research shows the genomes of gorillas and humans are even more closely related than previously thought, there are certain differences, particularly in the areas of the immune and reproductive systems, sensory perception, the production of keratin, and the regulation of insulin.

Previous studies estimate the evolutionary lineages of humans and gorillas split somewhere between 12 and 8.5 million years ago.

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