• University of Oviedo's researchers have contributed to figure out the orangutan's genome

    January 26, 2011

    The results, published on Nature's cover, has provided new clues to understand the evolution of hominids.

    Researchers from the University of Oviedo's Oncology Institute, who belong to a team led by Carlos López- Otín and scientists from the Evolutionary Biology Institute (UPF-CSIC) of Barcelona, have helped to decipher the orangutan's genome, the furthest hominid from men with whom he shared a common ancestor 12 million years ago. This study is a collaborative effort of more than 30 laboratories from 7 different countries, coordinated by Devin Locke of Washington University (USA).

    The Spanish contribution to the work, which appears on Nature's cover, has been coordinated by Arcadi Navarro, professor of Genetics in Pompeu-Fabra University and ICREA Research teacher of the Evolutionary Biology Institute (UPF-CSIC); Tomás Marqués- Bonet, team leader of the Primate Genomics team which belong to the same Institute and Carlos López- Otín, professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the University of Oviedo.

    The discovery of more than three thousand millions of base pairs which constitute the orangutan's genome has to be added to the human genome and the chimpanzee genome, previously discovered. This will let us obtain a detailed view of the evolutionary process which gave birth to human beings. The comparison among these genomes, with more than 97% of similarities between humans and orangutans, has shown the very different evolutionary pressures which the antecessors of these three species had to face as well as the remarkable differences among the orangutan's chromosomes and the rest of hominids. Likewise, the comparison between the two existing orangutan's species (Borneo and Sumatra) has revealed that both of them have undergone significant population changes. So, it has been determined that Sumatra's orangutans had a great population extension while Borneo's orangutans suffered a decline during the last 400.000 years. Nevertheless, the current population of Sumatra's orangutans is fewer than in Borneo, due to two main factors derived from human intervention. The understanding of their genetic differences could help to preserve both species which are seriously endangered.

    Carlos López-Otín has declared: "The detailed comparative study of the multiple families of genes in human, chimpanzee and orangutan's genomes has proved that there has been an important evolutionary pressure over the immune and reproductive systems". Likewise, Arcadi Navarro has pointed out that "the studies about orangutan's genomic organization will let us obtain valuable information about the mechanisms of chromosomal rearrangements that occur in diseases such as cancer".

    Spanish contribution
    The Spanish participation in this project stems from the work of these researchers: On the one hand, Tomás Marqués- Bonet from Washington University in Seattle and IBE (UPF-CSIC), Rui Faria, Olga Fernando, Fleur Darré, Domènec Farré, Elodie Gazave, Meritxell Oliva and Arcadi Navarro, from the same Institute and, on the other hand, Víctor Quesada, Xose S.Puente, Gonzalo R. Ordóñez and Carlos López- Otín, from the University of Oviedo. Dr. Navarro's group has compared the orangutan's chromosomal organization with the rest of hominids, which has allowed to reconstruct several important events, which will help us to distinguish the different species of hominids. Dr. Marqués-Bonet has led the duplications' analysis and the structural rearrangements in comparison with other hominids. In addition, the group of Dr. López- Otín has studied the different families of genes, which are usually associated with diseases, proving significant differences between human beings and orangutans.