Genetics
12:33 pm
Wed January 26, 2011

Researchers sequence genome of endangered orangutans

An international team of researchers has sequenced the genomes of two species of orangutan.

Lead researcher Devin Locke of the Genome Center at Washington University said a primary motivation for studying the genes of orangutans is their close evolutionary relationship to humans.

“The lessons you learn from studying these species can be applied to understanding of our own evolution and the evolution of the human population as well,” Locke said.

Locke said having genetic information about orangutans will also help species conservation efforts.

Using DNA samples from preserved cell cultures, and from animals born in the wild but now living in U.S. zoos, the researchers analyzed the genomes of six Sumatran and five Bornean orangutans.

Locke says the 11 individuals had more than 13 million variations in their DNA.

“Orangutans showed a great deal of diversity. I think that bodes well for conservation efforts at this point in time,” Locke said.

Locke said having high genetic diversity makes species more resistant to disease and other environmental challenges.

The only remaining wild populations of these endangered great apes live in the rainforests of Southeast Asia, on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The species under threat from habitat loss, illegal hunting and the pet trade.

The orangutan genome analysis is published online in the journal, Nature.