Thursday, 23 August 2012

Gorilla Genome Sequence Provides New Insight!

On March 7 2012, the article ‘Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence’ was published in the journal Nature, documenting the analysis of the first genome sequence of a gorilla (Scally et al 2012). The project was led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England. The DNA sample was from a western-lowland gorilla, Gorilla gorilla gorilla, named Kamilah (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute 2012). The team searched over 11,000 genes (Gorilla genome sequenced 2012), and compared them with the genome sequences of the rest of the Homini, which includes humans, which were completed in 2003, chimpanzees, from 2005, and orang-utans, sequenced in 2011 (Smith, A 2012).

Gorillas are thought to be the second closest animal relative to humans, with chimpanzees being first. Surprisingly, 15% of the sequence showed gorillas were closer to humans than chimpanzees, and another 15% showed gorillas were closer to chimpanzees than humans were, suggesting the evolutionary lineage was different than expected. However, the remaining 70% of the compared genome sequences showed chimpanzees as our closest animal relative (Pappas 2012).

(Scally et al, 2012)
This complex lineage and close DNA is a result of fast evolution. Through the combination of fossil records and these genome sequences, humans, gorillas and chimpanzees are estimated to have shared a common ancestor about ten million years ago. Chimpanzees and humans are estimated to have diverged six million years ago, only four million years after gorilla speciation. In evolutionary terms, that is a short time for such different speciation. (Pappas 2012). With species that have diverged from each other in such short time it is logical that some percent of DNA will be shared.

Figure 2: A Western lowland gorilla mother and baby.

Along with showing close ancestry, similarities between the sequences have provided other interesting insights. It has been suggested that the reason behind the complex language of humans is the accelerated evolution of a hearing gene. However, the gorilla genome shows that they also have an advanced hearing gene, yet do not communicate with a language as complex, which casts great doubt on the original theory (Smith, K 2012). However, the acceleration could be parallel, and have occurred for different reasons (Jha 2012 ).

Other similarities may prove to be of great medical use. Genes involved with dementia and heart failure are both found in gorilla DNA. Mutations of these genes in humans mean disease, but in gorillas these mutated genes are the standard state (Anderson 2012). Further research into why the mutations don’t affect gorillas could provide a cure for these diseases.

(Jha 2012)

The recent discovery of the gorilla genome provides further evidence of our ancestry, how and why we have evolved, along with the potential for new medical discoveries. The desired next steps of the project would be to gain full behaviour and physiology data and sequence the genomes of all the gorilla sub species, especially mountain gorillas, a sub-species soon to being extinct (Anderson 2012). The research team hope the article shows that it is essential we protect the gorilla species, not just for diversity and their beauty but for further learning and understanding of our own race (Noonan 2012).

Reference List
Anderson, A 2012, Gorilla Genome Analysis Reveals New Details of Great Ape Evolution, viewed 14 March 2012,
Gorilla genome sequenced 2012, viewed 14 March 2012,
Hesman Saey, T 2012, Geneticists go ape for better primate family tree, viewed 14 March 2012,
Jha, A 2012, Gorilla genome analysis reveals new human links, viewed 14 March 2012,   
Noonan, K 2012, Lowland Gorilla Genome Sequenced, viewed 14 March 2012
Pappas, S 2012, Gorillas & Humans Closer than thought, genome sequencing reveals, viewed 14 March 2012,

Scally et al 2012, Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence, Nature, viewed 14 March 2012,
Smith, A 2012, Boffins unlock gorilla genome, find lazy sperm gene, viewed 14 March 2012,
Smith, K 2012, Gorilla joins the genome club, viewed 14 March 2012,
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute 2012, Gorilla (gorilla gorilla), viewed 14 March 2012,

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