Jeffrey Good, a researcher in the Division of Biological Sciences at The University of Montana, was part of an international team that sequenced and analyzed the genome of the bonobo, a great ape species resembling chimpanzees that is closely related to humans.
The research was led by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Good began working on the genome project while completing postdoctoral research at the institute.
The new research was published June 13 on Nature magazine’s website at http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature11128.html.
“Our understanding of the biology of bonobos has lagged behind that of the other great apes, in part due to their remote and restricted distribution,” Good said. “In addition to providing general insights into human and great ape evolution, the bonobo genome also provides a powerful resource for future genetic studies on this endangered and seldom-studied species.”
Good said the genome sequence gives insights into the evolutionary relationships between the great apes and may help scientists understand the genetic basis of these traits.
The genome was sequenced from Ulindi, a female bonobo who lives in the Zoo Leipzig. Genome sequences already have been generated from all other great apes – chimpanzee, orangutan and gorilla – making this the final genome of a great ape to be sequenced.
The comparison of the genome sequences of bonobos, chimpanzees and humans show that humans differ by about 1.3 percent from both bonobos and chimpanzees. Chimpanzees and bonobos are more closely related, differing by only 0.4 percent.
Bonobo and chimpanzee territories in central Africa are close to one another, separated only by the Congo River. Researchers hypothesize that the formation of the Congo River separated the ancestors of chimpanzees and bonobos, leading to these distinct apes. Examination of the relationship between bonobos and chimpanzees shows a clean split and no subsequent interbreeding, which supports this hypothesis.
Despite the fact that on average the genomes of bonobos and chimpanzees are equally distant from human, analysis of the genome sequence of the bonobo revealed that for some particular parts of the genome humans are more closely related to bonobos than to chimpanzees, while in other regions the human genome is closer to chimpanzees.
Further research will determine whether these regions contribute in any way to the behavioral differences and similarities between humans, chimpanzees and bonobos. Bonobos, which together with chimpanzees are the closest living relatives of humans, are known for their peaceful, playful and sexual behavior that contrasts with the more aggressive behavior of chimpanzees.
NOTE: Another Nature article on this research is here: http://www.nature.com/news/hippie-chimp-genome-sequenced-1.10822.
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