The genome of the Western Lowland Gorilla has been given a second look. Scientists noticed that the original attempt to sequence the gorilla’s genome had gaps. What they learned from Western lowland gorilla’s genome could reveal information relevant to the human genome.
The scientific name for humans is Homo sapiens. The scientific name of the Western lowland gorilla very easy to remember: Gorilla gorilla gorilla. Both humans and Western lowland gorillas belong to the same Kingdom (Animalia), Phylum (Chordata), Class (Mammalia) and Order (Primates) in the Linnaeus Classification system.
Gorillas and humans are distantly related to each other. Recent studies indicate that the gorilla and human evolutionary lineage split about 12 million to 8.5 years ago. It turns out that the genomes of humans, and the genomes of gorillas, diverge by just 1.6 percent. Only chimpanzees and bonobos are more closely related to humans.
The first time scientists looked at the Western lowland gorilla genome was in 2012. It was highly fragmented, and contained 433,861 gaps with missing sequence. The scientists were trying to construct the gorilla genome by using the human genome as a guiding reference.
In April of 2016, the journal Science published a study titled “Long-read sequence assembly of the gorilla genome”. It was the second attempt at trying to understand the gorilla genome. This time, scientists used long-read sequencing technology and a unique combination of algorithms to reconstruct a more accurate gorilla genome.
The scientists used DNA from a Western lowland gorilla named Susie who is at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. (The DNA was provided by a blood sample). They also used information from six additional Western lowland gorilla genomes to create a pan-reference chart for use by the scientific community. The new assembly of the gorilla genome has a 96% reduction in contigs, short sequences that may lack information of their location within the genome.
The newly reconstructed genome of the Western lowland gorilla shows areas of genetic difference between them and humans. There are differences in the immune and reproductive systems; sensory perception; the production of keratin (a key protein in the structure of hair, fingernails, and skin) and the regulation of insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar).
One of the lead authors of the study, Christopher Hill, said that the differences between species may aid researchers in identifying regions of the human genome that are associated with higher cognition, complex language, behavior and neurological diseases.
Image by pelican on Flickr.
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