Humans, gorillas more alike than previously thought, say scientists

Fifteen percent of humans and chimp DNA is closer to that to gorillas than to each other, a new study finds. 

REUTERS/Ina Fassbender
One year-old gorilla Uzuri eats a salad at the zoo of Duisburg in Germany in 2011. Gorillas and humans are more alike than was previously thought.

Chimpanzees are humans nearest genetic relatives, but gorillas come in at a close second, according to a recent study.

For the first time, scientists have successfully sequenced the genome of a gorilla. The research team, led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, a nonprofit British genome research center, found that 30 percent of the gorilla's genome is closer to that of chimps and humans than the latter are to each other. 

The results, published online in the science journal Nature, are surprising because humans diverged from chimps more recently than they did from gorillas. Humans and chimps separated from gorillas 10 million years ago; chimps and humans diverged just 4 million years after that.   

To explain the remarkable number genes that humans share with gorillas, scientists suggest that the members of the two lineages continued to mate even as they diverged into separate species. 

The gorilla genome, which was taken from Kamilah, an Western lowland gorilla at the San Diego Zoo and compared with partial sequences from three other gorillas, contained a few surprises. The gene LOXHD1, which expresses itself in hair cells in the inner ear, has long been thought to have been associated with speech. But LOXHD1 was found to have evolved just as quickly in gorillas as it did in humans, a discovery that weakens the connection between the gene and language.

"We know gorillas don’t talk to each other," Aylwyn Scally the lead author of the study, told Nature. "If they do they’re managing to keep it secret.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.