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Genome study finds closer human-gorilla similarities

LOS ANGELES - Take a trip to the zoo and you can see gorillas are a lot like us. But a new DNA study says we’re even more similar than scientists thought.

From the evolutionary family tree, you would expect our DNA to be the most similar to chimps, our closest relatives.

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The new work found that’s true for the most part, but it also found that a sizable portion of our genome is closer to a gorilla’s than to a chimp’s.

“The chimpanzee is often cited as ‘our closest living relative,’ and this is certainly true based on total genome sequence, but the gorilla is nearly as close a relative,’’ Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University, who was not part of the project, said in an e-mail.

That agrees with hints from some smaller previous genetic studies.

The latest work deciphered the entire genome of the gorilla, which Lovejoy called a substantial achievement.

It reveals “a closer connection between our genome and that of the gorilla than was previously appreciated,’’ Richard Gibbs and Jeffrey Rogers of the Baylor College of Medicine wrote in an editorial accompanying the work published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature.

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With the new research, scientists now have complete genetic blueprints of the living great apes - humans, chimps, gorillas, and orangutans.

They can use the data to compare and gain fresh understanding of how humans evolved and developed key traits such as higher brain function and the ability to walk upright.

Humans and chimps evolved separately since splitting from a common ancestor about 6 million years ago.

The latest study was led by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, a nonprofit British genome research center.

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