A new study reveals that we're not as different from gorillas as we once believed.
It’s no secret that gorillas bear a number of similarities to humans, but a recent genetic analysis of the great apes from scientists at the University of Washington’s Eichler laboratory has taken our understanding of the mysterious beasts a step further. According to a report from CS Monitor, the recent sequencing reveals that there are a number of similarities between humans and gorillas on the genetic level.
The study was published on Thursday in the journal Science, and offers unique insight into how both apes and humans function on the genetic level. The Western lowland gorilla’s genome was first sequenced in 2012, but was incomplete with about 400,000 gaps in the sequence. Scientists at the Eichler lab used long-read sequencing technology to close more than 90 percent of these gaps in the recent study.
According to scientist Christopher Hill, one of the study’s co-authors, “One of the goals of the Eichler lab is to create a comprehensive catalogue of known genetic differences between humans and other apes. The difference between species may aid researchers in identifying regions of the human genome that are associated with cognition, behavior, and neurological diseases. Having complete and accurate reference genomes to compare allows researchers to uncover those differences.”
The sample used to sequence the gorilla genome was taken from Susie, a gorilla that lives in the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, IL. The genome was named Susie3, and has already yielded fascinating new insights on the similarities and differences between the lowland apes and us.
Dr. Hill says the sequence paints the story of the gorilla’s evolution in a slightly different light. He said that gorilla populations underwent a bottleneck some 50,000 years ago that was much more severe than previous studies indicated. The genome can also help explain how disease, climate, and human intervention affected gorilla populations over time.
While the researchers still have much work to do with the new sequence, they are already finding that our conceptions of gorillas and how they have evolved alongside humans are changing.
A press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science describing the details of the study can be found here.