Scientists Sequence Genome Of Human Relative That Prefers Love Over War

June 14, 2012
Scientists Sequence Genome Of Human Relative That Prefers Love Over War David Symer

  • Researchers have sequenced the bonobo genome and compared it to the genomes of chimpanzees and humans.

  • The findings should help scientists better understand the evolutionary relationships between these closely related primates.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of the bonobo, a primate that, along with chimpanzees, is the closest living relative of humans. Unlike chimpanzees, which have an aggressive nature, bonobos tend to be peaceful, playful and highly sexual.

The study, published online in the journal Nature, compares the bonobo genome to the genomes of chimpanzees and humans.

As part of the study, scientists at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) analyzed and compared movable pieces of DNA called transposons in the three genomes.

"The findings will help scientists understand the evolutionary relationships between humans, chimpanzees and bonobos, and should help us learn more about the genetic basis for traits that humans share with these close relatives," says Dr. David E. Symer, assistant professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics and leader of the Ohio State team. Symer worked closely with Dr. Keiko Akagi, a bioinformatics expert at Ohio State, and with Saneyuki Higashino, a graduate student visiting from Japan.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, led the study. They worked in collaboration with investigators at Aarhus University in Denmark, the University of Washington in Seattle, the National Human Genome Research Institute, The Ohio State University and other centers.

The team sequenced and assembled the genome of a female bonobo named Ulindi that lives in the Leipzig zoo.

They found that more than 3 percent of the human genome is more closely related to either the bonobo or the chimpanzee than the two apes are to each other, which indicates that the three species share a complex evolutionary relationship.

Transposons are popularly called "jumping genes" because they can move from one chromosomal location to another. They have accumulated in the genomes over evolutionary time and make up about half the genomic DNA of all three primates.

The Ohio State investigators identified the presence of more than 2.5 million transposons at identical locations in the chromosomes of all three species. They also found roughly 1,500 transposon insertions that are unique to the bonobo genome; that is, they are not present at the same genomic positions in the human or chimpanzee genomes, Symer says.

"These particular transposons inserted into the bonobo genome after they diverged from chimpanzees about a million years ago. They may be responsible for some of the key differences between bonobos, chimpanzees and humans, so we are continuing to study them," Symer says.

Funding from international sponsors supported this research. The Ohio State team's study was supported by the Ohio Supercomputer Center, Ohio Cancer Research Associates, and the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Researchers at these centers also participated in this study: J. Craig Venter Institute; University of Maryland; 454 Life Sciences; National Institutes of Health; University of Oxford, UK; The Wellcome Trust; Tokyo Institute of Technology; University of Washington; the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; University of Bari, Italy; Institut de Biologia Evolutiva, Spain; Lola Ya Bonobo Bonobo Sanctuary, Democratic Republic of Congo; Re´serve Naturelle Sanctuaire a` Chimpanze´s de Tchimpounga, Jane Goodall Institute, Republic of Congo; Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Uganda; Harvard Medical School; University of Montana; and the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology, Kenya.

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute strives to create a cancer-free world by integrating scientific research with excellence in education and patient-centered care, a strategy that leads to better methods of prevention, detection and treatment. Ohio State is one of only 41 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers and one of only seven centers funded by the NCI to conduct both phase I and phase II clinical trials. The NCI recently rated Ohio State's cancer program as "exceptional," the highest rating given by NCI survey teams. As the cancer program's 210-bed adult patient-care component, The James is a "Top Hospital" as named by the Leapfrog Group and one of the top 20 cancer hospitals in the nation as ranked by U.S.News & World Report.


A high quality JPEG of David Symer, MD, PhD, is available here.

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