Gorilla are the last of the genus of living great apes (humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans) to have their DNA decoded, offering new perspectives on their evolution and biology.
“The gorilla genome is important because it sheds light on the time when our ancestors diverged from our closest evolutionary cousins around six to 10 million years ago,” says Aylwyn Scally, postdoctoral fellow at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge and lead author of the report. “It also lets us explore the similarities and differences between our genes and those of gorilla, the largest living primate,” he added.
A team of researchers examined more than 11,000 genes in humans, chimpanzees and gorillas, looking for evolutionary clues. Initial findings have revealed that 15% of the gorilla genome is closer to human DNA than to our nearest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee. Researchers found that genes relating to sensory perception, hearing and brain development showed “accelerated evolution” in all three, but particularly in humans and gorillas.
Having the entire length of the gorilla genome now means scientists can start to compare all the four great apes at every position on the genome, Scally says. It forms the baseline, he says, from which to move forwards and really explore why and when our genes and those of the great apes diverged. The research is published in the science journal Nature.