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Orangutans share 97% of the human genome

The orangutan genome has been sequenced by an international research project including scientists from Catalonia. In an article published in Nature, the researchers say there is a 97% genetic overlap between the orangutan and the human genomes

STAFF | JANUARY 28th, 2011


An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of the orangutan, the most genetically distant cousin to Homo sapiens in the hominid “family.”  Humans and orangutans shared a common ancestor over 12 million years ago. Despite the evolutionary distance, the orangutan shares 97% of the human genome. This discovery, published in the journal Nature, shows the different evolutionary pressures which the ancestors of these species had to face and the considerable differences between the chromosomes of orangutans and those of other hominids.

Researchers at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and Spain’s National Research Council (CSIC) and the Institute of Oncology at the University of Oviedo in northern Spain have contributed to this discovery, which involved scientists from more than 30 laboratories in seven countries and was led by Devin Locke at Washington University in the U.S.

The Spanish contribution to this study was coordinated by Arcadi Navarro, Professor of Genetics at the UPF and ICREA Research Professor at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC), Tomàs Marquès-Bonet, head of the Genomics of Primates research group, and Carlos López-Otín, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Oviedo.

This new information provides a more accurate picture of humans’ evolutionary process Sequencing the genome of the orangutan and comparing the two existing species of orangutan –the Borneo and the Sumatra varieties– has revealed the existence of significant population changes between them.

Researchers hope that the knowledge of these genetic differences will help conservation efforts of the two species of orangutans, which are both in serious danger of extinction. It has been determined that the Sumatran orangutans expanded during the last 400,000 years, while those of Borneo experienced a decline.

The more than three billion base pairs that constitute the genome of the orangutan have now been added to the previously sequenced human and chimpanzee genomes to help provide a more accurate picture of the evolutionary process that gave rise to humans.

Reference article:
Comparative and demographic analysis of orang-utan genomes Devin P. Locke, LaDeana W. Hillier, Wesley C. Warren, Kim C. Worley, Lynne V. Nazareth, Donna M. Muzny, Shiaw-Pyng Yang, Zhengyuan Wang, Asif T. Chinwalla, Pat Minx, Makedonka Mitreva, Lisa Cook, Kim D. Delehaunty, Catrina Fronick, Heather Schmidt, Lucinda A. Fulton, Robert S. Fulton, Joanne O. Nelson, Vincent Magrini, Craig Pohl, Tina A. Graves, Chris Markovic, Andy Cree, Huyen H. Dinh, Jennifer Hume, et al. Journal name: Nature Volume: 469, Pages: 529–533 Date published:(27 January 2011) DOI: doi:10.1038/nature09687
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