The authors also contrasted the levels of genetic differentiation between the chimpanzees from the different groups with those based on similar data from humans from different populations. Surprisingly, even though all the chimpanzee populations lived in relatively close proximity, with the habitats of two groups separated only by a river, chimpanzees from different populations were substantially more different genetically than humans living on different continents.
Professor Peter Donnelly, Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford and a senior author on the study, said: "Relatively small numbers of humans left Africa 50,000-100,000 years ago. All non-African populations descended from them, and are reasonably similar genetically. That chimpanzees from habitats in the same country, separated only by a river, are more distinct than humans from different continents is really interesting. It speaks to the great genetic similarities between human populations, and to much more stability, and less interbreeding, over hundreds of thousands of years, in the chimpanzee groups."
The conservation implications of the study extend to other species. New techniques such as next-generation sequencing, which have become available since the study was initiated, will allow a catalogue of genetic variation to be obtained cheaply and easily for any species, simply by sequencing even one or two individuals. Such a catalogue could then be used to perform a study like this one, to identify genetically distinct groups, and subsequently to develop simple and cheap tests of population of origin.
Dr Nick Mundy, from the University of Cambridge, and the paper's other senior author, said: "Because they are humans' nearest relatives, the structure
|Contact: Craig Brierley|