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Human-chimp difference may be bigger

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Approximately 6 percent of human and chimp genes are unique to those species, report scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and three other institutions. The new estimate, reported in the inaugural issue of Public Library of Science ONE (Dec. 2006), takes into account something other measures of genetic difference do not -- the genes that aren't there.

That isn't to say the commonly reported 1.5 percent nucleotide-by-nucleotide difference between humans and chimps is wrong, said IUB computational biologist Matthew Hahn, who led the research. IUB postdoctoral researcher Jeffery Demuth is the paper's lead author.

"Both estimates are correct in their own way," Hahn said. "It depends on what you're asking. There isn't a single, standard estimate of variation that incorporates all the ways humans, chimps and other animals can be genetically different from each other."

By studying "gene families" -- sets of genes in every organism's genome that are similar (or identical) because they share a common origin -- the scientists also provide new information about the evolution of humanness. After surveying gene families common to both humans and chimps, the researchers observed in the human genome a significant increase in the duplication of genes that influence brain functions.

"Our results support mounting evidence that the simple duplication and loss of genes has played a bigger role in our evolution than changes within single genes," Hahn said.

That finding complements reports by University of Colorado and University of Michigan researchers in the journals Science and PLoS Biology earlier this year, in which researchers showed that both gains and losses of individual genes have contributed to human divergence from chimpanzees and other primates.

Hahn and his research partners examined 110,000 genes in 9,990 gene families that are shared by humans, common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)
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Contact: David Bricker
brickerd@indiana.edu
812-856-9035
Indiana University
19-Dec-2006


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