Gorillas in our midst, thanks to genes

2012-03-08 08:40

Paris - Our ancestors made the evolutionary split with gorillas around 10 million years ago, but we still share a remarkable number of genes with the great ape, according to a groundbreaking study published on Wednesday.

A worldwide consortium of scientists sequenced the genome of the western lowland gorilla and compared more than 11 000 of its key genes with those of modern humans, Homo sapiens, and chimpanzees.

Gorillas diverged from the human-chimp lineage around 10 million years ago, and around four million years later, Homo and chimps emerged on their own as a separate species, a figure that tallies with fossil evidence.

The comparison also overturns convictions about similarities between the major primates, the investigators said.

As expected, humans and chimps shared the most genes, they found.

But 15% of the human genome is closer to the gorilla genome than it is to the chimpanzee - and 15 percent of the chimp genome is closer to the gorilla genome than it is to human.

"Our most significant findings reveal not only differences between the species reflecting millions of years of evolutionary divergence, but also similarities in parallel changes over time since their common ancestor," said Chris Tyler-Smith from Britain's Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

"We found that gorillas share many parallel genetic changes with humans - including the evolution of our hearing.

"Scientists had suggested that the rapid evolution of human hearing genes was linked to the evolution of language. Our results cast doubt on this, as hearing genes have evolved in gorillas at a similar rate to those in humans."


Gorillas themselves began to split into two groups, the eastern lowland gorilla and the western lowland gorilla, about a million years ago.

The study throws cold water over the notion that when primate species diverged, this happened rather abruptly, over a relatively short period.

Instead, the process was longer and very gradual.

There was probably a fair amount of "gene flow," or inter-breeding between slightly different genetic strains, both before gorillas split from the other apes and before gorillas themselves diverged into two species.

There could well be a parallel in the split between chimps and bonobos, or between modern humans and Neanderthals, say the authors.

A new theory about Neanderthals is that they were more than kissing cousins - Homo sapiens occasionally interbred with them and incorporated some of their genes into modern humans.

The Neanderthals themselves died out as a separate species around 40 000 years ago, wiped out either by a changing climate or by Homo sapiens himself, according to some hypotheses.

The DNA sample came from a female western lowland gorilla named Kamilah.

After thriving for millions of years, gorillas survive today in just a few isolated, badly endangered populations in central Africa, their numbers diminished by hunting and habitat loss.

"As well as teaching us about human evolution, the study of the great apes connects us to a time when our existence was more tenuous, and in doing so, highlights the importance of protecting and conserving these remarkable species," says the study.

  • Blane - 2012-03-08 09:00

    Interesting to note that we share the DNA with the great ape and not the other way around

      Jason - 2012-03-08 09:11

      wtf.. we share gene's meaning... oh don't worry if it needs explaining I give up.

      Ant - 2012-03-08 09:48

      exactly Blane! yes it is semantics, but valid point none the less.

  • Hans - 2012-03-08 09:25

    Chalk up another one for science!

  • NinetiethOwl - 2012-03-08 09:26

    And yet we share an enormous amount of genetic information with bananas, but it's more profitable to push the primate connection, obviously.

      Franco - 2012-03-08 10:01

      Gorilla suits sell better than banana suits so the fancy dress shop owners must have influenced those bloody scientists to make these selective announcements.

      Franco - 2012-03-08 10:04

      The data, test method and full report are all open to peer review. If you feel there is any bias or false reporting, the organisation responsible will welcome your challenge.

      modo - 2012-03-08 10:05

      Profitable? The amount of DNA we share with apes is far far greater than what we share with a banana since we are much more closely related to apes. But indeed, we share genetic similarities with every living thing on this planet.

  • rochelle.sastri - 2012-03-08 10:24

    What a load of bulltwat! Explain again- this time logically- how would apes still exist if the apes evolved into us? There are many species that share similar DNA structures but a scientific brain that is untainted by the need to follow the majority would use common sense- which I see is not so common even in apparently highly educated individuals. There has never been any evolved fossils found in either the crust or mantel of earth that prove the theory of evolution.Any man or woman worth a brain in their head would surmise that just because evolutionist-nutjobs wanting to get published will say anything to prove their belief- it doesnt make it true. Check the evidence! It takes more faith to believe , despite all the evidence to the contrary, that evolution does exist (macro-, not micro) than it takes for one to open their eyes to what is true. Creation and Science have co-existed up until Darwin's age- maybe people should start looking at why this man was disillusioned, what factors affected his views and why the world seems to believe someone whose book was full of maybes, should-bes and could-bes

      Hans - 2012-03-08 10:33


      Jason - 2012-03-08 10:37

      Your argument is like saying white Americans come from Europe so why do we still have European's? On the other point Rochelle Darwin's theory started out as observational but now with all the scientific evidence its fact. If you don't see it you either reading the wrong material "Creationist" or you just don't don't want to see past facts because of then you'll need to question your believes.

      Franco - 2012-03-08 10:40

      Rochelle, save yourself much embarrassment and ridicule - go and research the subject and come back to us if you still don't understand.

      Franco - 2012-03-08 10:44

      Do you remember a time when the suggestion that the earth was NOT the centre of the universe could get you burnt at the stake. That was regarded as heresy, or in your words bulltwat. At least in this day and age all we need to contend with is dogmatic creationists with pathetic arguments to defend their dying cult.

      Guy - 2012-03-08 11:22

      @Meme, if I could like your post a million times I would. Long live Dawkins.

      Franco - 2012-03-08 11:26

      Meme - he also said something about faith meaning being satisfied to not understand the universe. I don't understand string theory so you won't catch me arguing that string theory is bulltwat because nobody know how long a string is anyway. PS. I DO know exactly how long a piece of string is.

      Barry - 2012-03-08 11:36

      Rochelle, Apes are like extended(^n) cousins. By the way, evolutionists/atheists operate from a position of proof. Present them with sufficient proof, and they will change their standing. And you are setting up a straw man with your argument about Darwin.

      Franco - 2012-03-08 11:55

      Thanks Meme - and all this time I thought string theory was about how long it was.

      Nico - 2012-03-13 10:21

      Your question :"Explain again- this time logically- how would apes still exist if the apes evolved into us?" - shows that you know very little about evolution, and is in no position to discuss or attack it.

  • John - 2012-03-08 15:57

    ok - can i say hi news24? or is that also wrong?

      John - 2012-03-08 16:02

      wow these guys are blocking the most mundane stuff! trying this in another language Hoekom evolusieer the apies nie om die verandering in hulle habitat the hanteer nie

      John - 2012-03-09 07:50

      Thanks Meme - your Afrikaans is spot on :) As far as I understand, evolution is a chance based process and has no speed constant assigned to it. But it would've been great if all species was able to adept to their environment. Which oddly enough was my understanding of ghost genes (DNA turned on and off due to parental environmental influences) and should promote and direct the natural selection process. I just find it very lucky with the current understanding of the evolution process - which is still not completely understood, like psudeogenes - that we still have large animals roaming about as the last ice age was mere 70 000 years ago.

      John - 2012-03-09 08:40

      *large amount of animals (not large animals) - specie diversity

  • - 2012-03-08 17:11

    Religion is caught between a rock and a hard ("warm") place. Their followers are advised not to study evolution in detail (they might be converted) yet they have to defend their stand and therefore their hilarious pseudo-science creationism on forums like this.

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