A sequencing of the gorilla genome led by researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has allowed scientists for the first time to compare the genomes of all four living great apes: humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.
The gorilla genome sequencing provides a unique perspective on human origins and an important resource for research into human evolution and biology, a Wellcome Trust release reported Wednesday.
"The gorilla genome is important because it sheds light on the time when our ancestors diverged from our closest evolutionary cousins. It also lets us explore the similarities and differences between our genes and those of gorilla, the largest living primate," trust researcher Aylwyn Scally said.
The researchers looked at more than 11,000 genes in humans, chimpanzees and gorillas for genetic changes important in evolution, and while humans and chimpanzees are genetically closest to each other over most of the genome, in some cases that's not the case, they said.
Fifteen percent of the human genome is closer to the gorilla genome than it is to chimpanzee, they found, and 15 percent of the chimpanzee genome is closer to the gorilla than 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," Chris Tyler-Smith, senior study author, said. "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," Tyler-Smith said. "Our results cast doubt on this, as hearing genes have evolved in gorillas at a similar rate to those in humans."