Globally, gibbons are one of the most threatened families of primates, while the pileated gibbon is listed as endangered – Copyright SITE Intelligence Group/AFP/File –
The genetic diversity and evolutionary history of primates (monkeys, apes, lemurs and humans) has been revealed in full for the first time, following new research. It is hoped the results will help scientists better understand genetic diseases and human health overall, according to The Independent.
The research was a collaborative effort across several universities where the genomes of more than 200 primate species were sequenced. This has created the first ever global catalogue of genetic diversity among primates. Among the species looked at were aye-ayes, the western hoolock gibbon and the golden snub-nosed monkey.
Previous genetic research into primates has focused on small parts of the genome, such as specific genes. In contrast, the new study publishes a diverse sample of whole genomes across the primate family tree.
The University of Salford (Manchester, U.K.) contributed 205 samples totalling 77 species, which equals more than 30 percent of the species analysed. The Salford team used information from the fossil record in combination with the genome sequences to produce a new best primate family tree to date.
The results also provide a detailed picture of how all the different branches, including humans, are related to each other, and when these branches split from each other. In particular the data reveals how primates have diversified over the last 60 million years, from their origin a few million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs to the present day.
Professor Jean Boubli, who is the Chair in Tropical Ecology and Conservation at the University of Salford, states: “This is a real game changer in studying many aspects of primate evolution. And it touches on conservation. Many of these species are under threat and the results here could help with conservation efforts. It is a fantastic collaboration that is going to open up a lot of doors to future research.”
Dr. Mareike Janiak at the Canadian Centre of Computational Genomics combined these fossil data with the genomic data to calculate when different primate groups developed, an analysis that was only possible by using a large supercomputer. Due to the immense size of the data involved, even on a supercomputer the analysis required a full month to complete. Salford University has invested close to £1 million in computational and molecular biology over the past few years.
The research has been published in the journal Science, titled “A global catalog of whole-genome diversity from 233 primate species.”