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Mountain Gorilla Genome

April 13, 2015

The genome of the critically endangered mountain gorilla provides clues to its genetic past as well as its prospects for future survival.



Mountain gorilla Virunga National Park Rwanda Joseph King flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Mountain gorilla in Virunga National Park. (Joseph King/flickr/Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Gorilla family trees. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The mountain gorilla is critically endangered, with fewer than 900 remaining in the wild. Now, scientists have sequenced the great ape’s genome for the first time in order to assess its genetic health. Chris Tyler-Smith is with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

CHRIS TYLER-SMITH (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute):

We found that in mountain gorillas the levels of genetic diversity were very low. For roughly a third of the genome of each individual there’s no variation at all; they’ve inherited identical copies of that region of the genome from both their mother and their father.


But there’s hope for the gorillas yet: Tyler-Smith and his colleagues write in the journal Science that while inbreeding can be harmful, there’s evidence that the gorillas have coped with it for thousands of generations. What’s more, the most harmful mutations have been removed from the gene pool by natural selection. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.