What Makes Us Human? Study Offers Some Clues
TEMPO.CO, Washington - The most comprehensive genomic study ever on primates - a group whose membership includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and people - has revealed pivotal genetic traits that are uniquely human while refining the timeline for our evolutionary lineage's split from our closest cousins, the chimpanzees and bonobos.
Researchers said on Thursday, June 1, they sequenced and analyzed the genomes of 233 primate species, comprising nearly half of those alive today, and surprisingly discovered that most boast greater genetic diversity - variation within a species that is vital for adaptation to changing environments and other challenges - than humans.
While some genetic variations previously thought to be exclusive to people were found in other primate species, the researchers pinpointed others that were uniquely human involving brain function and development. They also used the primate genomes to train an artificial intelligence algorithm to predict disease-causing genetic mutations in humans.
"Studying primate genomic diversity is not only important in the face of the ongoing biodiversity crisis, but also has huge potential to improve our understanding of human diseases," said genomicist Lukas Kuderna of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park's Institute of Evolutionary Biology in Spain and Illumina Inc (ILMN.O), lead author of the main paper on the research published in the journal Science.
There are more than 500 species of primates, including lemurs, lorises, tarsiers, Old and New World monkeys, the "small apes" - gibbons and siamangs - and the "great apes" - orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Lemurs and lorises are the least related to humans among primates.