Gibbon Species = Evolution?

If you’ve never heard of a gibbon, you’ve likely overlooked them at your local zoo. The unique arboreal apes are furry tree huggers that aren’t very active in captivity, but occupy a unique place in evolutionary history and in the hearts of ecologists worldwide. And now, after sequencing and analyzing the genome of the northern white-cheeked gibbon species (Nomascus leucogenys), researchers believe they may have found an answer as to how the small apes were able to set themselves apart under such a short evolutionary time.

Gibbons are unique creatures that fall under the family of Hominoidea alongside the great apes and humans, however, their origins come from the family of the Old World monkeys. Though possessing hominoid characteristics, much like ourselves, the several species of gibbons are strictly arboreal apes. They have distinct physiological traits, such exaggerated limb proportions with long arms designed for brachiation or movement by swinging between adjacent branches, however, their genetic makeup is even far more distinct. With diploid chromosome numbers ranging from 38 to 52, which delineate species from one another as they cannot interbreed, the large-scale chromosomal rearrangements and vastly different karyotypes of gibbon species are remarkably fast changes since the genus arose 4-6 million years ago. In order to investigate the plasticity of the gibbon genome, and to better understand the evolutionary relationships between the current species, a team of 92 international researchers looked into the propensity for a gibbon-specific retrotransposon (LAVA), needed for chromosome segregation, to alter transcription by providing a premature termination site. The discovery of the pliable genome, that can still function under multiple genetic mutations, revealed a viable reason for the radiation of many gibbon species ~5 million years ago, when changes in the landscape of southeast Asia required the gibbons to adapt to rapid compression and expansion of their niché habitats. the question remains of how so many chromosomal rearrangements could have become fixed in several different species over such a relatively short period of evolutionary time. Though the researchers will continue to investigate the working hypotheses they developed out of the results of this primary study, they are hopeful that the analyses of the genomes of such close ancestors may one day reveal a bit more information on our own origins on this Earth.

Shreshtha Chakraborty

(All information from Latinos health)

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