A team of international scientists have sequenced the whole genomes of mountain gorillas. The extensive genetic analysis has revealed that the mountain gorillas are burdened with severe inbreeding and are at the risk of extinction. However, researchers said that it is still possible to check their population decline, if we help them.
Inbreeding has reduced gorillas’ ability to adapt
Findings of the study were published Thursday in the Science journal. Found mostly in central Africa, mountain gorillas are a close genetic cousin to humans. There are two gorilla species: eastern and western. Mountain gorilla is one of the two sub-species of eastern gorillas. Chris Tyler-Smith of Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and co-author of the study said that they found “extremely high levels of inbreeding.”
The mountain gorillas’ mating with close relatives due to their small population size has led to a significant loss of genetic diversity. Due to inbreeding, they inherit identical genetic material from both parents. It reduces their genetic ability to adapt, making them vulnerable to environmental changes and diseases. Inbreeding can also cause harmful mutations.
Scientists said that mountain gorillas have suffered “a dramatic collapse in numbers during the last century.” While inbreeding may have an impact on their population, it has saved the species from many of the most harmful mutations. It weeded out harmful genetic variations that have caused damaging mutations in other gorilla sub-species.
Only 880 mountain gorillas are left
Aylwyn Scally of the University of Cambridge said that the mountain gorillas “have not yet crossed any genetic threshold of no return.” Their number could grow if we help them. There are only 880 mountain gorillas living in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the forests of the Virunga volcanic mountain range in central Africa. Scientists said the biggest threats facing the species are hunting, habitat loss and diseases transmitted from humans.
Researchers said we need to conserve them and their future lies in our hands. In 1981, the number of mountain gorillas had declined to just 253 due to hunting and habitat loss. But conservation efforts have bolstered their numbers to more than 800.