Thursday, January 27, 2011

How humans are 97 % the same as orangutans: New research shows how DNA matches


Wild thing: A juvenile orangutan in its native Borneo. DNA testing shows that the ape shares 97 per cent of our DNA

Orangutans may be more closely related to humans than scientists previously thought, a new genetic study has shown.

The first blueprint of the orangutan genetic code has confirmed that they share 97 per cent of their DNA with people.

Although that makes the red-haired apes less closely related to us than chimps - who have 99 per cent of DNA in common - a small portion of orangutan DNA is a closer match to human DNA, the international team of researchers found.

The study is the first time scientists have cracked the genetic code of the endangered great apes.

Researchers hope their findings will aid efforts to protect the species from extinction.

Today, only about 50,000 Bornean and 7,000 Sumatran orangutans remain in the wild. Their numbers have been dwindling as a result of deforestation.

The scientists first sequenced the genome of a female Sumatran orangutan named Suzie.

Using her DNA as a 'reference' they then compared the results with the DNA from another five Sumatran and five Bornean orangutans.

They recorded around 13 million DNA variations in the apes and found the two species split around 400,000 years ago - much more recently than previously thought.

Common traits: Orangutans in captivity can take on some typically human behavioural traits such as drawing

Humans are generally less related to orangutans than chimpanzees, the research showed.

Chimps and people shared a common ancestor around five to seven million years ago.

Our last common ancestor with orangutans is thought to have lived around 14 million years ago.

But a related study in the journal Genome Research revealed that some regions of orangutan DNA are a closer match to people than chimps.

Hope for the future: Scientists believe their DNA research will help the endangered orangutan avoid extinction

The study also found that the genetic make up of orangutans varies hugely from ape to ape.

This high level of 'genetic diversity' is important for conservation because it helps animals stay healthy and cope with changes in their environment.

Primatologist Dr Jeffrey Rogers, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, U.S., who took part in the genome project, said: 'Their genetic variation is good news because, in the long run, it enables them to maintain a healthy population.'

But he added: 'If the forest disappears, then genetic variation won't matter. Habitat is of course absolutely essential.

'If things continue as they have for the next 30 years, we won't have orangutans left in the wild.'

source: dailymail

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