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Understanding Gibbon Evolution: The 'Exploding' Genome

Sep 11, 2014 11:14 AM EDT

Experts have recently completed sequencing and analyzing the genome of the gibbon, a rare kind of primate with a unique chromosomal rearrangement, allowing for rapid evolution and surprising variety.

According to a study recently published in the journal Nature, experts have long known that for some reason the chromosomes - packaged genetic information in a DNA sequence - of gibbons boast an abnormal number of breaks and rearrangements, setting them apart from other primates and even humans, despite our similarities.

Nature World News previously reported how the singing of the silvery gibbon could potentially be a major clue in the mystery of how human language evolved.

Now, Jeffrey Rogers of the Human Genome Sequencing Center and lead author of the study explained that finding parallels between the human and gibbon genome can help us better understand human biology and evolution.

"The gibbon sequence represents a branch of the primate evolutionary tree that spans the gap between the Old World Monkeys and great apes and has not yet been studied in this way. The new genome sequence provides important insight into their unique and rapid chromosomal rearrangements," he said in a statement.

The researcher adds that the rapid changes in the gibbon genome makes it much harder to find comparisons between human and these rare apes.

"It is like the genome just exploded and then was put back together," he explained. "Up until recently, it has been impossible to determine how one human chromosome could be aligned to any gibbon chromosome because there are so many rearrangements."

But thanks to the extensive sequencing and analysis detailed in his work, Rogers and his colleagues now know that a unique genetic repeat - in which the same segments of DNA appear over and over throughout the genome - emphasizes chromosome segregation specifically.

Kim Worley, who was involved in the study, notes that while this work helps them better understand gibbons, it also sheds some light on the origins of human disease.

"Cancer is clearly the biggest medical example of the impact of chromosome rearrangements. The gibbon sequence gives us more insight into this process," she said. "There are also a number of other genetic diseases that result from these events."

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