Scientists said Wednesday that they have finally sequenced the genetic code of gibbons, the king of swingers. They are one of the most enigmatic members of the planet’s apes. These long-arm swingers live in the forests of Southeast Asia. It was the only member of the ape family whose DNA had not been sequenced, until recently. But now scientists have whole genetic sequences of all apes.
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What gives gibbons their fantastic swinging ability?
Jeffrey Rogers, a genetic researcher at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston who was part of the team, said it provides new insights into the history of the human genome. Gibbons superficially bear resemblance to monkeys, but they share a lot of characteristics with humans, who are part of the Great Ape group with gorillas, orangutans, chimps and bonobos.
Findings of the study appeared Wednesday in the journal Nature. Scientists also identified genes that give gibbons their fantastic ability to swing from one tree to another at speeds up to 35mph. Scientists also noticed a number of structural changes in their DNA. These changes, known as chromosomal rearrangements, can be troublesome in other species. For instance, such rearrangements can cause cancer in humans. But they didn’t prove problematic during the evolution of gibbons.
Chimps’ genome was sequenced in 2005. The genome of orangutans was published in 2011, followed by bonobos and gorillas in 2012. Lucia Carbone of the Oregon Health & Science University and lead author of the study said the gibbon genome occupies the place between the Old World Monkeys such as baboons and macaques, and the great apes.
Gibbons diverged from other apes 17 million years ago
Gibbon genome is 96% similar to the humans. Our closest cousins, chimpanzees, have 98% similarities with the human genome. Researchers analyzed genome of a female gibbon named Asia, and sequenced genomes of eight other individuals. Scientists estimate gibbons diverged from the other apes about 17 million years ago.
These omnivores eat insects, fruits, leaves, birds, and bird eggs. They are monogamous, and form long-term pairs. They swing through the forest canopy using their long arms rather than running on the branches. Individuals are bipedal, meaning they walk upright on legs when they descend from the trees.