The latest study conducted on Mountain Gorillas offers information about their conservation and their inbreeding habits. The research has analyzed the whole genome of the species and uncovered their genetic impacts. It is the most complex genetic analysis of mountain gorillas which was ever performed. 23 scientists from 6 countries took part in bringing out the first complete genetic map of mountain gorillas.
According to the paper, which was published in the journal Science, gorillas deal with severe inbreeding and in addition are exposed to extinction. However scientists are positive about their survival. Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute was one of the co-authors of the study. He said that, although mountain gorillas are one of the most intensively studied species of primates in the wild, this is the first whole-genome, in-depth examination. He also added that after three years of study researchers are now able to compare the genomes of all gorilla species and understand what they have in common and what makes them different. Now they also have a clear image on how the inbreeding of mountain gorillas affects the species’ genetics.
The findings indicate that for thousands of years the gorillas have lived in small groups and managed incredibly well with the inbreeding although scientists expected it to generate serious health problems. Moreover scientists believe that the gorillas could further flourish for the next thousands of years if they are properly protected from hunting and habitat destruction.
Scientists have gathered gorilla blood samples and analyzed the whole genome of 7 mountain gorillas. The results proved that the animals were in fact 2 to 3 times less diverse compared to other gorillas which inhabit the western and central parts of Africa.
Considering the drop in gorilla population which occurred in 1980’s scientist were worried about their survival, but the results of the new study indicate that gorillas have been surviving in small-size groups for over thousands of years now. So scientists no longer need to be concerned over this matter.
Aylwyn Scally, a geneticist from the University of Cambridge, explained that mountain gorillas are at risk of extinction and they have experienced a severe collapse in numbers over the last century. However, the factors which can bring about severe health problems or stop genes from working are fewer in comparison with other gorilla subspecies. So according to Scally, despite lacking genetic diversity, mountain gorillas will continue to survive and even return to large numbers if they are helped.
Image Source: WWF/Martin Harvey