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The sequence of the gorilla genome is published today, completing the set for the living great apes. The findings provide a unique perspective on our own origins and are an important resource for research into human evolution and biology, as well as gorilla biology and conservation.
While confirming that our closest relative is the chimpanzee, the research reveals that much of the human genome more closely resembles the gorilla than it does the chimpanzee genome. This is the first time scientists have been able to compare the genomes of all four living great apes: humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans.
Dr Aylwyn Scally from the team at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, who led the research, explains: "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 the 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."
The team searched more than 11 000 genes in human, chimpanzee and gorilla for genetic changes important in evolution. Humans and chimpanzees are genetically closest to each other over most of the genome, but the team found many places where this is not the case. 15 per cent of the human genome is closer to the gorilla genome than it is to chimpanzee, and 15 per cent of the chimpanzee genome is closer to the gorilla than human.
In all three species, genes relating to sensory perception, hearing and brain development showed accelerated evolution - particularly so in humans and gorillas.
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