Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gorilla joins the genome club

Linda Wu

As we human, are very interested on when do we separate from our primate cousins and what makes human different from apes? All sorts of questions about our evolutionary path seems rather important than anything else. Therefore many scientists have looked at the genomes of human, chimpanzees and orangutans to suggest some sort of relationship. This year, the outbreak of evolutionary has arrived – the first gorilla has its genome sequenced!

Kamilah is the first female gorilla to have its full genome sequenced. She is a west lowland gorilla which lives in California. She is 35 years old and weight 136 kilograms. Kamilah is best spotted because of her dark fur coat covered up her skins.

In the past, researchers have done the entire genome sequencing on human, chimpanzees and orangutans. This simply helps us to understand which genomes are closely related to us and also gain more understanding of our own evolutionary path. Chimpanzees are the closet living relatives of humans and gorillas are considering to be the second closest after its genome sequence completed.

“When humans and chimps diverged it wasn’t long after gorillas had separated from the same lineage,” says Aylwyn Scally, whose team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK.

The research team also compared the genomes of Kamilah with sequence data from three other gorillas; two other western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) which is the same sub-species as Kamilah and one eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri).

“The final data suggest that gorillas split from their common ancestor with human and chimpanzees about 10 million years ago, and human and chimpanzees from each other about 4 million years after that”, said the researcher. This really helps us to clear the relationship between these three types of ape.

In our standard view of human evolution is that human and chimpanzees are most related to one another than gorillas to human because chimpanzees and human diverged more recently. However, the data shows that 15% of human genes actually look more similar to the gorillas than chimpanzees. In additional, most of those 15% of the genes don’t code with proteins. Nevertheless, researchers still looked at the changes of functional genes. They found that certain genes like hearing and brain development had gone through rapid changes in both human lineages and gorillas. But the changes are a little bit puzzling because the hearing genes LOXHD1 in human was thought to be involved in human speech but gorillas don’t speak up like humans. Therefore a clear relationship can’t be drawn between the genes and languages.

Over all, the first gorilla genome sequenced definitely contributed to the human evolutionary in certain extent even though some findings are puzzling and yet confirmed. But the whole genome sequencing of Kamilah really helps us to understand our evolutionary path more deeply and by having such additional lineages. It puts human evolution into important perspective and for further research.

Kerri Smith, 2012, “Gorilla joins the genome club”, Nature, <>

Richard A Gibbs & Jeffrey Rogers, “Genomics: Gorilla gorilla gorilla”, Nature, vol. 483, pp. 164–165, <
描述: Italic/full/483164a.html#/bx1>

Richard Durbin, “Insights into hominid evolution from the gorilla genome sequence”, Nature, vol. 483, pp. 169–175, <>

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