Researchers have been using other great apes such as gorillas and orangutans as test subjects for a long time, and all for one very good reason – their genetic similarity to humans. Part of the same family as humans, gorillas and the other great apes are the ideal test subjects for any genetic research of any importance.
So of course, instead of attempting to figure out a way to decode the human genome, researchers first focused on great apes – in particular on gorillas. Finally, a few years after it was first sequenced in 2012, the gorilla genome was just more or less completed. This was achieved using new, top of the line sequencing technology.
The technology, called long-read sequencing technology, was recently developed and used in order to fill in the large gaps left in the sequenced GorGor3 genome back in 2012. There were somewhere around 400,000 gaps left in the genome, and over ninety percent of them were just filled in by the Eichler lab team.
According to Christopher Hill, one of the authors of the study,
One of the goals of the Eichler lab is to create a comprehensive catalogue of known genetic differences between humans and other great apes. The differences 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 these differences.
The new genome is called Susie3 after the gorilla on which it was based, a lowland gorilla from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and it has already provided invaluable information about both the gorilla and the human genomes and their evolutionary history.
And the new information is truly interesting for anyone fascinated by the subject, showing how the gorilla population went through a much more severe bottleneck some 50,000 years than was previously believed. Additionally, the genetic variation patterns in the genome can show how climate change, disease, and human activity affected the gorilla population.
Of course, the lab has now set its targets on the other great apes, planning to more or less fully sequence the genomes of chimpanzees, orangutans, and humans. This will most likely provide significant breakthroughs in the genetics of primate behavior and cognition.
One last very important and interesting finding, at least until the next sequencing attempt, was in the differences between the genomes of modern gorillas and more ancient ones. Many new structural variants weren’t present in the apes’ genetic code some generations back, but they have recently appeared.
Image source: Wikimedia