According to Scherer, prior to this research, only nine inversions between humans and chimps had been identified. Using a computational approach, Scherer's group identified 1,576 presumed inversions between the two species, 33 of which span regions larger than 100,000 base pairs--a sizeable chunk of DNA. The average human gene is smaller, only about 60,000 bases in length.
Scherer's team experimentally confirmed 23 out of 27 inversions tested so far. Moreover, by comparing the chimp genome with its ancestor, the gorilla genome, they determined that more than half of the validated inversions flipped sometime during human evolution.
Perhaps even more interesting than the abundance of inversions that Scherer's group unveiled was their discovery that a subset of the inversions are polymorphic--taking different forms--within humans, meaning that the human genome is still evolving. When the 23 experimentally confirmed inversions were tested against a panel of human samples, the scientists found three inversions with two alleles or pairs of genes displaying the human inversion in some people, whereas others had one allele of the human inverted sequence and one allele of the normal sequence in chimps.
Having one allele with an inversion and one allele without represents a ticking time bomb in genetic terms, Scherer said, since these alleles may improperly align and recombine during replication, ultimately causing DNA deletions or a loss of DNA that subsequent generations inherit. Scherer's prior r
Contact: Jennifer Donovan
Howard Hughes Medical Institute