Orangutan DNA More Diverse Than Humans

Published by: Andy on 27th Jan 2011 | View all blogs by Andy
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Orangutan DNA More Diverse Than Humans

A study conducted by scientists at the Genome Center at St. Louis' Washington University found that orangutans, who are the most distant relative of humans among the great apes, have more diverse DNA than we do and that it has remained stable for more than 15 million years.

The researchers sequenced the genomes of a handful of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans and found the DNA to be 97 percent identical to that of humans.  Comparatively, chimpanzees, considered our closest cousins, have DNA that is 99 percent identical to ours.

The study also revealed immense genetic diversity in the DNA of orangutans, with a whopping 13 million variations found.  Gene diversity helps a species to remain healthy and adapt to changing conditions in its environment.

“The average orangutan is more diverse, genetically speakingm than the average human. We found deep diversity in both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans, but it's unclear whether this level of diversity can be maintained in light of continued widespread deforestation,” said Devin Locke, the Washington University biologist who authored the study in a statement.

Locke also said that the group was surprised to find that the evolution of the orangutan genome happened more slowly than with that of humans or chimps.  “n terms of evolution, the orangutan genome is quite special among great apes in that is has been extraordinarily stable over the past 15 million years,” Genome Center director Richard K. Wilson said in the statement.  “This compares with chimpanzees and humans, both of which experienced large-scale structural rearrangements of their genome that may have accelerated their evolution.”

Orangutans are considered an endangered species and this study may help conservationists in their efforts to preserve the species.

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