Munch Lab

Great ape genetic diversity mapped

The genomes of the great apes have been sequenced with the Gorilla and Bonobo genomes completing the picture last year. This gave us valuable new information about the patterns of genetic differences between humans and the other great apes and a detailed picture of the ancestral relationship of this group of species.

Grafic Bickerstaff I, Clee PS, Drass J, Gadsby E, Idoaga A, Sudmant P
Grafic Bickerstaff I, Clee PS, Drass J, Gadsby E, Idoaga A, Sudmant P

Until now, however, we have lacked a comparable account of the differences of individuals within each species. As part of an international collaboration we publish today in Nature a deep survey of the genetic diversity of the species and subspecies of great apes. This shows that several of the apes including the Orangutan have genetic diversities that dwarf that of humans: where two humans show one difference for each thousand positions in the genome the orangutan sports two.The larger genetic diversity of apes allows us to peak further into the evolutionary past of these species to better understand the mechanisms shaping genomes as species evolve. The close relationship of humans and the other great apes means that a better knowledge of these processes will also over time contribute a better understanding of human evolution. Among other results analysis of the 78 genomes sequenced in this study has produced a first full picture of great ape evolution integrating within-species history with the more ancient history of how these species arose from common ancestors.

Knowledge of the patterns of diversity is also crucial in distinguishing the different subspecies of Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans and will aid zoos in planning of breeding programs to keep separate the different subspecies in captivity and thereby conserving their individual characteristics.

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