Chimps 'have more gene variations'

Posted: March 3, 2012 at 3:21 am

Chimpanzee populations that live as neighbours have more genetic variation than humans from different continents, a study has found.

The findings, published in the online journal Public Library of Science Genetics, are believed to have important implications for chimp conservation.

Scientists studied DNA from 54 African chimpanzees looking for variations between different populations. Even though the chimps lived in relatively close proximity, with two groups separated only by a river, their populations were substantially more different genetically than humans from around the world.

Professor Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University, who co-led the study, said: "Relatively small numbers of humans left Africa 50,000-100,000 years ago. All non-African populations descended from them, and are reasonably similar genetically.

"That chimpanzees from habitats in the same country, separated only by a river, are more distinct than humans from different continents is really interesting.

"It speaks to the great genetic similarities between human populations, and to much more stability, and less interbreeding, over hundreds of thousands of years, in the chimpanzee groups."

Three distinct chimpanzee populations, or sub-species, have long been recognised. The western, central and eastern chimpanzees all live in equatorial Africa. A fourth group, the Cameroonian chimpanzee, has been proposed to live in southern Nigeria and western Cameroon.

However, there has been controversy over whether it really constitutes a separate population. The new research confirmed that Cameroonian chimpanzees are distinct from the other sub-species, said study leader Dr Rory Bowden, from Oxford University.

He said: "These findings have important consequences for conservation. All great ape populations face unparalleled challenges from habitat loss, hunting and emerging infections, and conservation strategies need to be based on sound understanding of the underlying population structure.

"The fact that all four recognised populations of chimpanzees are genetically distinct emphasises the value of conserving them independently."

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Chimps 'have more gene variations'

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