Study Suggests Close Human Similarities With Gorillas

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According to a new study, humans are even closer to gorillas than previously thought.

While most people are aware of certain similarities between gorillas and humans, the study suggests that genetically speaking we are incredibly closely related. Scientists from the University of Washington’s Eichler laboratory have revealed just how close following a genetic analysis, writes Sam Catherman for BABW News.

Genome sequencing reveals true extent of similarities

Genetic sequencing has shown that humans and gorillas display a number of similarities on a genetic level, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Science. The research improves our knowledge of the genetic functioning of both apes and humans.

Although the Western lowland gorilla genome was sequenced in 2012, there were significant gaps with around 400,000 parts of the sequence missing. Researchers used long-read sequencing techniques to close over 90% of these gaps during the recent study.

“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,” said study co-author Christopher Hill.

Study improves understanding of gorillas

A gorilla named Susie, who lives in Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois, donated the sample that was used in the genetic sequencing. As a result the genome was named Susie3

According to Hill the research shows certain differences in how gorilla’s evolved. He reports that gorilla populations suffered a bottleneck around 50,000 years ago, to a greater extent than scientists previously thought. The genome will also be useful in explaining how disease, climate and human activity have affected gorillas over the course of history.

The sequencing process used during the study may lead to more accurate sequencing of genomes from other mammals. Scientists are already working on sequencing genomes from the rest of the great ape family, which includes gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and humans.

Scientists excited to carry out further research

It is thought that the research could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of how primate cognition and behavior are affected by genetics.

“The bigger surprise came once we started drilling down at the differences between the previous and new gorilla genomes,” Hill says. “We are finding a large number of novel structural variants in coding regions of the gorilla genome that have not been seen before. I’m sure the biggest surprise will be what other researchers are able to uncover with this new reference genome.”

Watching gorillas interact is a disconcerting experience that makes you realize just how much we have in common with the great apes. From social behavior to emotional intelligence, there are a huge number of ways in which we appear to be closely related.

This study shows that these similarities go beyond the superficial and reach deep into our genetics. It will be hard to look at a gorilla in the same way ever again knowing that we are in fact very closely related. These magnificent creatures should be protected as far as possible so that humans do not cause the demise of a close relative.

Further details on the study are found in a press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science here.

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