Humans and gorillas share genetic similarities

Humans are a lot closer to gorillas than appearances would suggest, scientists   have found.

Gorillas in Virunga National Park Photo: ALAMY

A study has shown that across 15% of their genetic code, or genome, gorillas   are more like humans than chimpanzees.

In both, certain genes have also evolved at the same rate, research shows.   They include genes for hearing, throwing into doubt theories linking the   development of hearing and human language.

The findings emerge from the first completed genome sequence, or genetic "blueprint",   of the gorilla.

Gorillas are the last of the living great apes to have their genetic codes   mapped, allowing scientists to compare the genomes of humans, chimpanzees,   gorillas and orang-utans.

The new research was chiefly based on DNA taken from Kamilah, a female western   lowland gorilla.

Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire,   searched more than 11,000 genes in the gorilla, human and chimpanzee looking   for important evolutionary differences.

In all three species, genes related to sensory perception, hearing and brain   development showed accelerated evolution. But this was especially true for   humans and gorillas.

Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, senior author of the research published in the journal   Nature, said: "Our most significant findings reveal not only   differences between the species reflecting millions of years of evolutionary   divergence, but also similarities in parallel changes over time since their   common ancestor.

"We found that gorillas share many parallel genetic changes with humans   including the evolution of our hearing.

"Scientists had suggested that the rapid evolution of human hearing genes   was linked to the evolution of language.

"Our results cast doubt on this, as hearing genes have evolved in   gorillas at a similar rate to those in humans."

Gorillas separated from humans and chimpanzees on the evolutionary path around   10 million years ago, the research showed.

A more gradual divergence between eastern and western gorillas occurred much   more recently in the last million years or so.

This could be compared with the split between modern humans and Neanderthals,   or chimpanzees and bonobos, said the scientists.

Co-author Dr Aylwyn Scally, also from the Sanger Institute, said: "The   gorilla genome is important because it sheds light on the time when our   ancestors diverged from our closest evolutionary cousins.

"It also lets us explore the similarities and differences between our   genes and those of gorilla, the largest living primate.

"Using DNA from Kamilah, a female western lowland gorilla, we assembled a   gorilla genome sequence and compared it with the genomes of the other great   apes.

"We also sampled DNA sequences from other gorillas in order to explore   genetic differences between gorilla species."



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