Whether or not nonhuman primates exhibit population-level handedness remains a topic of considerable scientific debate. Here, we examined handedness for coordinated bimanual actions in a sample of 777 great apes including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. We found population-level right-handedness in chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, but left-handedness in orangutans. Directional biases in handedness were consistent across independent samples of apes within each genus. We suggest that, contrary to previous claims, population-level handedness is evident in great apes but differs among species as a result of ecological adaptations associated with posture and locomotion. We further suggest that historical views of nonhuman primate handedness have been too anthropocentric, and we advocate for a larger evolutionary framework for the consideration of handedness and other aspects of hemispheric specialization among primates.
Great apes; handedness; asymmetry; laterality; language evolution
What are the rules relating the size of the brain and its structures to the number of cells that compose them and their average sizes? We have shown previously that the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and the remaining brain structures increase in size as a linear function of their numbers of neurons and non-neuronal cells across 6 species of primates. Here we describe that the cellular composition of the same brain structures of 5 other primate species, as well as humans, conform to the scaling rules identified previously, and that the updated power functions for the extended sample are similar to those determined earlier. Accounting for phylogenetic relatedness in the combined dataset does not affect the scaling slopes that apply to the cerebral cortex and cerebellum, but alters the slope for the remaining brain structures to a value that is similar to that observed in rodents, which raises the possibility that the neuronal scaling rules for these structures are shared among rodents and primates. The conformity of the new set of primate species to the previous rules strongly suggests that the cellular scaling rules we have identified apply to primates in general, including humans, and not only to particular subgroups of primate species. In contrast, the allometric rules relating body and brain size are highly sensitive to the particular species sampled, suggesting that brain size is neither determined by body size nor together with it, but is rather only loosely correlated with body size.
Allometry; Brain size; Evolution; Glia, number; Neurons, number; Primates
The human brain has often been viewed as outstanding among mammalian brains: the most cognitively able, the largest-than-expected from body size, endowed with an overdeveloped cerebral cortex that represents over 80% of brain mass, and purportedly containing 100 billion neurons and 10× more glial cells. Such uniqueness was seemingly necessary to justify the superior cognitive abilities of humans over larger-brained mammals such as elephants and whales. However, our recent studies using a novel method to determine the cellular composition of the brain of humans and other primates as well as of rodents and insectivores show that, since different cellular scaling rules apply to the brains within these orders, brain size can no longer be considered a proxy for the number of neurons in the brain. These studies also showed that the human brain is not exceptional in its cellular composition, as it was found to contain as many neuronal and non-neuronal cells as would be expected of a primate brain of its size. Additionally, the so-called overdeveloped human cerebral cortex holds only 19% of all brain neurons, a fraction that is similar to that found in other mammals. In what regards absolute numbers of neurons, however, the human brain does have two advantages compared to other mammalian brains: compared to rodents, and probably to whales and elephants as well, it is built according to the very economical, space-saving scaling rules that apply to other primates; and, among economically built primate brains, it is the largest, hence containing the most neurons. These findings argue in favor of a view of cognitive abilities that is centered on absolute numbers of neurons, rather than on body size or encephalization, and call for a re-examination of several concepts related to the exceptionality of the human brain.
brain scaling; number of neurons; human; encephalization
The present study was conducted to test predictions of the oxidative stress theory of aging assessing reactive oxygen species production and oxidative stress resistance in cultured fibroblasts from 13 primate species ranging in body size from 0.25 to 120 kg and in longevity from 20 to 90 years. We assessed both basal and stress-induced reactive oxygen species production in fibroblasts from five great apes (human, chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla, and orangutan), four Old World monkeys (baboon, rhesus and crested black macaques, and patas monkey), three New World monkeys (common marmoset, red-bellied tamarin, and woolly monkey), and one lemur (ring-tailed lemur). Measurements of cellular MitoSox fluorescence, an indicator of mitochondrial superoxide (O2·−) generation, showed an inverse correlation between longevity and steady state or metabolic stress–induced mitochondrial O2·− production, but this correlation was lost when the effects of body mass were removed, and the data were analyzed using phylogenetically independent contrasts. Fibroblasts from longer-lived primate species also exhibited superior resistance to H2O2-induced apoptotic cell death than cells from shorter-living primates. After correction for body mass and lack of phylogenetic independence, this correlation, although still discernible, fell short of significance by regression analysis. Thus, increased longevity in this sample of primates is not causally associated with low cellular reactive oxygen species generation, but further studies are warranted to test the association between increased cellular resistance to oxidative stressor and primate longevity.
Primates; Comparative biology; Free radical; Oxidative stress
Magnetic resonance images of the brain were obtained from 2 gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), 4 orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), 14 chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and 4 bonobos (Pan paniscus). The region on the motor cortex of humans identified as responsible for motor skill of the hand (the “knob”) was identified in this sample on consecutive 1-mm axial scans. The shape of the knob area was traced on each scan from both hemispheres, and the area from all scans was summed to calculate the knob volume. The width of the knob was also measured and correlated highly with knob volume. A significant population-level leftward asymmetry in the volume and width of the knob was revealed (p < .05). Species differences in knob asymmetry and overall volume were not significant, but the variability in overall volume between species was substantial. Selection for the evolution of a neuroanatomical representation of the hand in primates and an evolutionary trend toward population-level right handedness are discussed.
Although human evolution is characterized by a vast increase in brain size, it is not clear whether or not certain regions of the brain are enlarged disproportionately in humans, or how this enlargement relates to differences in overall neural morphology. The aim of this study is to determine whether or not there are specific suites of features that distinguish the morphology of the human brain from that of apes. The study sample consists of whole brain, in vivo magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) and five ape species (gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos). Twenty-nine 3D landmarks, including surface and internal features of the brain were located on 3D MRI reconstructions of each individual using MEASURE software. Landmark coordinate data were scaled for differences in size and analyzed using Euclidean Distance Matrix Analysis (EDMA) to statistically compare the brains of each non-human ape species to the human sample. Results of analyses show both a pattern of brain morphology that is consistently different between all apes and humans, as well as patterns that differ among species. Further, both the consistent and species-specific patterns include cortical and subcortical features. The pattern that remains consistent across species indicates a morphological reorganization of 1) relationships between cortical and subcortical frontal structures, 2) expansion of the temporal lobe and location of the amygdala, and 3) expansion of the anterior parietal region. Additionally, results demonstrate that, although there is a pattern of morphology that uniquely defines the human brain, there are also patterns that uniquely differentiate human morphology from the morphology of each non-human ape species, indicating that reorganization of neural morphology occurred at the evolutionary divergence of each of these groups.
brain evolution; morphology; neuroanatomy; human evolution
Insectivores represent extremes in mammalian body size and brain size, retaining various “primitive” morphological characteristics, and some species of Insectivora are thought to share similarities with small-bodied ancestral eutherians. This raises the possibility that insectivore brains differ from other taxa, including rodents and primates, in cellular scaling properties. Here we examine the cellular scaling rules for insectivore brains and demonstrate that insectivore scaling rules overlap somewhat with those for rodents and primates such that the insectivore cortex shares scaling rules with rodents (increasing faster in size than in numbers of neurons), but the insectivore cerebellum shares scaling rules with primates (increasing isometrically). Brain structures pooled as “remaining areas” appear to scale similarly across all three mammalian orders with respect to numbers of neurons, and the numbers of non-neurons appear to scale similarly across all brain structures for all three orders. Therefore, common scaling rules exist, to different extents, between insectivore, rodent, and primate brain regions, and it is hypothesized that insectivores represent the common aspects of each order. The olfactory bulbs of insectivores, however, offer a noteworthy exception in that neuronal density increases linearly with increasing structure mass. This implies that the average neuronal cell size decreases with increasing olfactory bulb mass in order to accommodate greater neuronal density, and represents the first documentation of a brain structure gaining neurons at a greater rate than mass. This might allow insectivore brains to concentrate more neurons within the olfactory bulbs without a prohibitively large and metabolically costly increase in structure mass.
allometry; brain size; comparative neuroanatomy; glia; neurons; evolution; olfactory bulb
Historically, population-level handedness has been considered a hallmark of human evolution. Whether nonhuman primates exhibit population-level handedness remains a topic of considerable debate. This paper summarizes published data on handedness in great apes. Comparative analysis indicated that chimpanzees and bonobos show population-level right handedness, whereas gorillas and orangutans do not. All ape species showed evidence of population-level handedness when considering specific tasks. Familial analyses in chimpanzees indicated that offspring and maternal (but not paternal) handedness was significantly positively correlated, but this finding was contingent upon the classification criteria used to evaluate hand preference. Overall, the proportion of right handedness is lower in great apes compared with humans, and various methodological and theoretical explanations for this discrepancy are discussed.
handedness; great apes; laterality; behavior genetics
The genealogical relationship of human, chimpanzee, and gorilla varies along the genome. We develop a hidden Markov model (HMM) that incorporates this variation and relate the model parameters to population genetics quantities such as speciation times and ancestral population sizes. Our HMM is an analytically tractable approximation to the coalescent process with recombination, and in simulations we see no apparent bias in the HMM estimates. We apply the HMM to four autosomal contiguous human–chimp–gorilla–orangutan alignments comprising a total of 1.9 million base pairs. We find a very recent speciation time of human–chimp (4.1 ± 0.4 million years), and fairly large ancestral effective population sizes (65,000 ± 30,000 for the human–chimp ancestor and 45,000 ± 10,000 for the human–chimp–gorilla ancestor). Furthermore, around 50% of the human genome coalesces with chimpanzee after speciation with gorilla. We also consider 250,000 base pairs of X-chromosome alignments and find an effective population size much smaller than 75% of the autosomal effective population sizes. Finally, we find that the rate of transitions between different genealogies correlates well with the region-wide present-day human recombination rate, but does not correlate with the fine-scale recombination rates and recombination hot spots, suggesting that the latter are evolutionarily transient.
Primate evolution is a central topic in biology and much information can be obtained from DNA sequence data. A key parameter is the time “when we became human,” i.e., the time in the past when descendents of the human–chimp ancestor split into human and chimpanzee. Other important parameters are the time in the past when descendents of the human–chimp–gorilla ancestor split into descendents of the human–chimp ancestor and the gorilla ancestor, and population sizes of the human–chimp and human–chimp–gorilla ancestors. To estimate speciation times and ancestral population sizes we have developed a new methodology that explicitly utilizes the spatial information in contiguous genome alignments. Furthermore, we have applied this methodology to four long autosomal human–chimp–gorilla–orangutan alignments and estimated a very recent speciation time of human and chimp (around 4 million years) and ancestral population sizes much larger than the present-day human effective population size. We also analyzed X-chromosome sequence data and found that the X chromosome has experienced a different history from that of autosomes, possibly because of selection.
The two major apolipoproteins associated with human and chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) high density lipoproteins (HDL) are apoA-I and dimeric apoA-II. Although humans are closely related to great apes, apolipoprotein data do not exist for bonobos (Pan paniscus), western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the Sumatran orangutans (Pongo abelii). In the absence of any data, other great apes simply have been assumed to have dimeric apoA-II while other primates and most other mammals have been shown to have monomeric apoA-II. Using mass spectrometry, we have measured the molecular masses of apoA-I and apoA-II associated with the HDL of these great apes. Each was observed to have dimeric apoA-II. Being phylogenetically related, one would anticipate these apolipoproteins having a high percentage of invariant sequences when compared with human apolipoproteins. However, the orangutan, which diverged from the human lineage between 16 and 21 million years ago, had an apoA-II with the lowest monomeric mass, 8031.3 Da and the highest apoA-I value, 28311.7 Da, currently reported for various mammals. Interestingly, the gorilla that diverged from the lineage leading to the human-chimpanzee branch after the orangutan had almost identical mass values to those reported for human apoA-I and apoA-II. But chimpanzee and the bonobo that diverged more recently had identical apoA-II mass values that were slightly larger than reported for the human apolipoprotein. The chimpanzee A-I mass values were very close to those of humans; however, the bonobo had values intermediate to the molecular masses of orangutan and the other great apes. With the already existing genomic data for chimpanzee and the recent entries for the orangutan and gorilla, we were able to demonstrate a close agreement between our mass spectral data and the calculated molecular weights determined from the predicted primary sequences of the respective apolipoproteins. Post-translational modification of these apolipoproteins, involving truncation and oxidation of methionine, are also reported.
Mass spectrometry; truncated apoA-II; dimeric apoA-II. post-translational modifications
Following a series of experiments in which six orangutans and one gorilla discriminated photographs of different animal species in a two-choice touch screen procedure, Vonk & MacDonald (2002) and Vonk & MacDonald (2004) concluded that orangutans, but not the gorilla, seemed to learn intermediate level category discriminations, such as primates versus non-primates, more rapidly than they learned concrete level discriminations, such as orangutans versus humans. In the current experiments, four of the same orangutans and the gorilla were presented with delayed matching-to-sample tasks in which they were rewarded for matching photos of different members of the same primate species; golden lion tamarins, Japanese macaques, and proboscis monkeys, or family; gibbons, lemurs (Experiment 1), and subsequently for matching photos of different species within the following classes: birds, reptiles, insects, mammals, and fish (Experiment 2). Members of both Great Ape species were rapidly able to match the photos at levels above chance. Orangutans matched images from both category levels spontaneously whereas the gorilla showed effects of learning to match intermediate level categories. The results show that biological knowledge is not necessary to form natural categories at both concrete and intermediate levels.
Gorilla; Matching; Orangutans; Biological categories; Concepts
Primary microcephaly (MCPH) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by global reduction in cerebral cortical volume. The microcephalic brain has a volume comparable to that of early hominids, raising the possibility that some MCPH genes may have been evolutionary targets in the expansion of the cerebral cortex in mammals and especially primates. Mutations in ASPM, which encodes the human homologue of a fly protein essential for spindle function, are the most common known cause of MCPH. Here we have isolated large genomic clones containing the complete ASPM gene, including promoter regions and introns, from chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, and rhesus macaque by transformation-associated recombination cloning in yeast. We have sequenced these clones and show that whereas much of the sequence of ASPM is substantially conserved among primates, specific segments are subject to high Ka/Ks ratios (nonsynonymous/synonymous DNA changes) consistent with strong positive selection for evolutionary change. The ASPM gene sequence shows accelerated evolution in the African hominoid clade, and this precedes hominid brain expansion by several million years. Gorilla and human lineages show particularly accelerated evolution in the IQ domain of ASPM. Moreover, ASPM regions under positive selection in primates are also the most highly diverged regions between primates and nonprimate mammals. We report the first direct application of TAR cloning technology to the study of human evolution. Our data suggest that evolutionary selection of specific segments of the ASPM sequence strongly relates to differences in cerebral cortical size.
Mutation of the ASPM gene is associated with abnormally small brain size. Comparison of the ASPM gene from several primate species suggests it as a target of evolutionary selection for increased brain size
DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification involved in regulatory processes such as cell differentiation during development, X-chromosome inactivation, genomic imprinting and susceptibility to complex disease. However, the dynamics of DNA methylation changes between humans and their closest relatives are still poorly understood. We performed a comparative analysis of CpG methylation patterns between 9 humans and 23 primate samples including all species of great apes (chimpanzee, bonobo, gorilla and orangutan) using Illumina Methylation450 bead arrays. Our analysis identified ∼800 genes with significantly altered methylation patterns among the great apes, including ∼170 genes with a methylation pattern unique to human. Some of these are known to be involved in developmental and neurological features, suggesting that epigenetic changes have been frequent during recent human and primate evolution. We identified a significant positive relationship between the rate of coding variation and alterations of methylation at the promoter level, indicative of co-occurrence between evolution of protein sequence and gene regulation. In contrast, and supporting the idea that many phenotypic differences between humans and great apes are not due to amino acid differences, our analysis also identified 184 genes that are perfectly conserved at protein level between human and chimpanzee, yet show significant epigenetic differences between these two species. We conclude that epigenetic alterations are an important force during primate evolution and have been under-explored in evolutionary comparative genomics.
Differences in protein coding sequences between humans and their closest relatives are too small to account for their phenotypic differences. It has been hypothesized that these differences may be explained by alterations of gene regulation rather than primary genome sequence. DNA methylation is an important epigenetic modification that is involved in many biological processes, but from an evolutionary point of view this modification is still poorly understood. To this end, we performed a comparative analysis of CpG methylation patterns between humans and great apes. Using this approach, we were able to study the dynamics of DNA methylation in recent primate evolution and to identify regions showing species-specific methylation pattern among humans and great apes. We find that genes with alterations of promoter methylation tend to show increased rates of divergence in their protein sequence, and in contrast we also identify many genes with regulatory changes between human and chimpanzee that have perfectly conserved protein sequence. Our study provides the first global view of evolutionary epigenetic changes that have occurred in the genomes of all species of great apes.
When the diminutive skeleton of Homo floresiensis was found on the Indonesian island of Flores, it was interpreted as an island dwarf, conforming to the ‘island rule’ that large animals evolve smaller size on islands, but small animals tend to get larger. However, previous studies of the island rule have not included primates, so the extent to which insular primate populations undergo size change was unknown. We use a comparative database of 39 independently derived island endemic primate species and subspecies to demonstrate that primates do conform to the island rule: small-bodied primates tend to get larger on islands, and large-bodied primates get smaller. Furthermore, larger species undergo a proportionally greater reduction in size on islands.
insular dwarf; comparative method; Homo floresiensis
Whether the cognitive competences of monkeys and apes are rather similar or whether the larger-brained apes outperform monkeys in cognitive experiments is a highly debated topic. Direct comparative analyses are therefore essential to examine similarities and differences among species. We here compared six primate species, including humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas (great apes), olive baboons, and long-tailed macaques (Old World monkeys) in a task on fine-grained size discrimination. Except for gorillas, subjects of all taxa (i.e. humans, apes, and monkeys) were able to discriminate three-dimensional cubes with a volume difference of only 10 % (i.e. cubes of 50 and 48 mm side length) and performed only slightly worse when the cubes were presented successively. The minimal size discriminated declined further with increasing time delay between presentations of the cubes, highlighting the difficulty to memorize exact size differences. The results suggest that differences in brain size, as a proxy for general cognitive abilities, did not account for variation in performance, but that differential socio-ecological pressures may better explain species differences. Our study highlights the fact that differences in cognitive abilities do not always map neatly onto phylogenetic relationships and that in a number of cognitive experiments monkeys do not fare significantly worse than apes, casting doubt on the assumption that larger brains per se confer an advantage in such kinds of tests.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10071-013-0616-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Great apes; Baboons; Macaques; Humans; Cognition; Brain size
Human mast cell tryptases vary strikingly in secretion, catalytic competence, and inheritance. To explore the basis of variation, we compared genes from a range of primates, including humans, great apes (chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan), Old- and New-World monkeys (macaque and marmoset), and a prosimian (galago), tracking key changes. Our analysis reveals that extant soluble tryptase-like proteins, includingα- andβ-like tryptases, mastins, and implantation serine proteases, likely evolved from membrane-anchored ancestors because their more deeply rooted relatives (γtryptases, pancreasins, prostasins) are type I transmembrane peptidases. Function-altering mutations appeared at widely separated times during primate speciation, with tryptases evolving by duplication, gene conversion, and point mutation. Theα-tryptase Gly216Asp catalytic domain mutation, which diminishes activity, is present in macaque tryptases, and thus arose before great apes and Old World monkeys shared an ancestor, and before theαβsplit. However, the Arg–3Gln processing mutation appeared recently, affecting only humanα. By comparison, the transmembraneγ-tryptase gene, which anchors the telomeric end of the multigene tryptase locus, changed little during primate evolution. Related transmembrane peptidase genes were found in reptiles, amphibians, and fish. We identified soluble tryptase-like genes in the full spectrum of mammals, including marsupial (opossum) and monotreme (platypus), but not in nonmammalian vertebrates. Overall, our analysis suggests that soluble tryptases evolved rapidly from membrane-anchored, two-chain peptidases in ancestral vertebrates into soluble, single-chain, self-compartmentalizing, inhibitor-resistant oligomers expressed primarily by mast cells, and that much of present numerical, behavioral, and genetic diversity ofα- andβ-like tryptases was acquired during primate evolution.
Foamy viruses (FVs) are unconventional retroviruses with a replication strategy that is significantly different from orthoretroviruses and bears some homology to that of hepadnaviruses. Although some cellular proteins, such as APOBEC3, have been reported to block FVs, no restriction by Trim5α has been described to date. The sensitivity of three FV isolates of human-chimpanzee or prototypic (PFV), macaque (SFVmac), and feline (FFV) origin to a variety of primate Trim5αs was therefore tested. PFV and SFVmac were restricted by Trim5αs from most New World monkeys, but not from other primates, whereas FFV-based vectors were restricted by Trim5αs from the great apes gorilla and orangutan. Trim5αs from Old World monkeys did not restrict any FV isolate tested. Capuchin Trim5α was unique, as it restricted SFVmac and FFV but not PFV. Trim5α specificity for FVs was determined by the B30.2 domain, interestingly involving, in some instances, the same residues of the variable regions previously implicated as major determinants for human immunodeficiency virus type 1 restriction. FVs with chimeric Gags were made to map the viral determinants of sensitivity to restriction. The N-terminal half of the Gag molecule was found to contain the regions that control susceptibility. This region most likely corresponds to the capsid of conventional retroviruses. Due to their unique replication strategy, FVs should provide a valuable new system to examine the mechanism of retroviral restriction by Trim5α.
The spinal cord can be considered a major sensorimotor interface between the body and the brain. How does the spinal cord scale with body and brain mass, and how are its numbers of neurons related to the number of neurons in the brain across species of different body and brain sizes? Here we determine the cellular composition of the spinal cord in eight primate species and find that its number of neurons varies as a linear function of cord length, and accompanies body mass raised to an exponent close to 1/3. This relationship suggests that the extension, mass and number of neurons that compose the spinal cord are related to body length, rather than to body mass or surface. Moreover, we show that although brain mass increases linearly with cord mass, the number of neurons in the brain increases with the number of neurons in the spinal cord raised to the power of 1.7. This faster addition of neurons to the brain than to the spinal cord is consistent with current views on how larger brains add complexity to the processing of environmental and somatic information.
Allometry; Number of neurons; Evolution; Connectivity
The extent to which nonhumans are able to form conceptual versus perceptual discriminations remains a matter of debate. Among the great apes, only chimpanzees have been tested for conceptual understanding, defined as the ability to form discriminations not based solely on simple perceptual features of stimuli, and to transfer this learning to novel stimuli. In the present investigation, a young captive female gorilla was trained at three levels of abstraction (concrete, intermediate, and abstract) involving sets of photographs representing natural categories (e.g., orangutans vs. humans, primates vs. nonprimate animals, animals vs. foods). Within each level of abstraction, when the gorilla had learned to discriminate positive from negative exemplars in one set of photographs, a novel set was introduced. Transfer was defined in terms of high accuracy during the first two sessions with the new stimuli. The gorilla acquired discriminations at all three levels of abstraction but showed unambiguous transfer only with the concrete and abstract stimulus sets. Detailed analyses of response patterns revealed little evidence of control by simple stimulus features. Acquisition and transfer involving abstract stimulus sets suggest a conceptual basis for gorilla categorization. The gorilla's relatively poor performance with intermediate-level discriminations parallels findings with pigeons, and suggests a need to reconsider the role of perceptual information in discriminations thought to indicate conceptual behavior in nonhumans.
In the mammalian auditory system, the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body and the lateral superior olive (MNTB-LSO system) contribute to binaural intensity processing and lateralization. Localization precision varies with the sound frequencies. As recency of common ancestry with human beings increases, primates have improved low-frequency sensitivity and reduced sensitivity to higher frequencies. The medial part of the MNTB is devoted to higher frequency processing. Thus, its high-frequency-dependent function is nearly lost in humans and its role in binaural processing as part of the contralateral pathway to the LSO remains questionable. Here, Nissl-stained sections of the superior olivary complex of man (Homo sapiens), bonobo (Pan paniscus), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), gibbon (Hylobates lar), and macaque (Macaca fascicularis) were compared to reveal differences and coincidences. From chimpanzees to humans, the size of the LSO decreased, and the MNTB as a compact nucleus nearly disappears. From chimpanzees to humans, the LSO/MNTB ratio increases dramatically too, whereas the LSO/MSO ratio remains 1.1; a finding that probably corresponds to the phylogenetic proximity between the species.
Primates; Monkeys; Superior olivary complex; Hearing frequencies
The Alu repetitive family of short interspersed elements (SINEs) in primates can be subdivided into distinct subfamilies by specific diagnostic nucleotide changes. The older subfamilies are generally very abundant, while the younger subfamilies have fewer copies. Some of the youngest Alu elements are absent in the orthologous loci of nonhuman primates, indicative of recent retroposition events, the primary mode of SINE evolution. PCR analysis of one young Alu subfamily (Sb2) member found in the low-density lipoprotein receptor gene apparently revealed the presence of this element in the green monkey, orangutan, gorilla, and chimpanzee genomes, as well as the human genome. However, sequence analysis of these genomes revealed a highly mutated, older, primate-specific Alu element was present at this position in the nonhuman primates. Comparison of the flanking DNA sequences upstream of this Alu insertion corresponded to evolution expected for standard primate phylogeny, but comparison of the Alu repeat sequences revealed that the human element departed from this phylogeny. The change in the human sequence apparently occurred by a gene conversion event only within the Alu element itself, converting it from one of the oldest to one of the youngest Alu subfamilies. Although gene conversions of Alu elements are clearly very rare, this finding shows that such events can occur and contribute to specific cases of SINE subfamily evolution.
“Orangutan” is derived from the Malay term “man of the forest” and aptly describes the Southeast Asian great apes native to Sumatra and Borneo. The orangutan species, Pongo abelii (Sumatran) and Pongo pygmaeus (Bornean), are the most phylogenetically distant great apes from humans, thereby providing an informative perspective on hominid evolution. Here we present a Sumatran orangutan draft genome assembly and short read sequence data from five Sumatran and five Bornean orangutan genomes. Our analyses reveal that, compared to other primates, the orangutan genome has many unique features. Structural evolution of the orangutan genome has proceeded much more slowly than other great apes, evidenced by fewer rearrangements, less segmental duplication, a lower rate of gene family turnover and surprisingly quiescent Alu repeats, which have played a major role in restructuring other primate genomes. We also describe the first primate polymorphic neocentromere, found in both Pongo species, emphasizing the gradual evolution of orangutan genome structure. Orangutans have extremely low energy usage for a eutherian mammal1, far lower than their hominid relatives. Adding their genome to the repertoire of sequenced primates illuminates new signals of positive selection in several pathways including glycolipid metabolism. From the population perspective, both Pongo species are deeply diverse; however, Sumatran individuals possess greater diversity than their Bornean counterparts, and more species-specific variation. Our estimate of Bornean/Sumatran speciation time, 400k years ago (ya), is more recent than most previous studies and underscores the complexity of the orangutan speciation process. Despite a smaller modern census population size, the Sumatran effective population size (Ne) expanded exponentially relative to the ancestral Ne after the split, while Bornean Ne declined over the same period. Overall, the resources and analyses presented here offer new opportunities in evolutionary genomics, insights into hominid biology, and an extensive database of variation for conservation efforts.
Several theories have been proposed to explain the evolution of species differences in brain size, but no consensus has emerged. One unresolved question is whether brain size differences are a result of neural specializations or of biological constraints affecting the whole brain. Here I show that, among primates, brain size variation is associated with visual specialization. Primates with large brains for their body size have relatively expanded visual brain areas, including the primary visual cortex and lateral geniculate nucleus. Within the visual system, it is, in particular, one functionally specialized pathway upon which selection has acted: evolutionary changes in the number of neurons in parvocellular, but not magnocellular, layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus are correlated with changes in both brain size and ecological variables (diet and social group size). Given the known functions of the parvocellular pathway, these results suggest that the relatively large brains of frugivorous species are products of selection on the ability to perceive and select fruits using specific visual cues such as colour. The separate correlation between group size and visual brain evolution, on the other hand, may indicate the visual basis of social information processing in the primate brain.
Sequence analysis of the orangutan genome revealed that recent proliferative activity of Alu elements has been uncharacteristically quiescent in the Pongo (orangutan) lineage, compared with all previously studied primate genomes. With relatively few young polymorphic insertions, the genomic landscape of the orangutan seemed like the ideal place to search for a driver, or source element, of Alu retrotransposition.
Here we report the identification of a nearly pristine insertion possessing all the known putative hallmarks of a retrotranspositionally competent Alu element. It is located in an intronic sequence of the DGKB gene on chromosome 7 and is highly conserved in Hominidae (the great apes), but absent from Hylobatidae (gibbon and siamang). We provide evidence for the evolution of a lineage-specific subfamily of this shared Alu insertion in orangutans and possibly the lineage leading to humans. In the orangutan genome, this insertion contains three orangutan-specific diagnostic mutations which are characteristic of the youngest polymorphic Alu subfamily, AluYe5b5_Pongo. In the Homininae lineage (human, chimpanzee and gorilla), this insertion has acquired three different mutations which are also found in a single human-specific Alu insertion.
This seemingly stealth-like amplification, ongoing at a very low rate over millions of years of evolution, suggests that this shared insertion may represent an ancient backseat driver of Alu element expansion.
A number of retrovirus-like sequences have been cloned from chimpanzee DNA which constitute the chimpanzee homologs of the endogenous colobus type C virus CPC-1. One of the clones contains a nearly complete viral genome, but others have sustained deletions of 1 to 2 kilobases in the polymerase gene. The pattern of related sequences detected in other primate species is consistent with the genetic transmission of these sequences for millions of years. However, the appropriately related sequences have not been detected in human, gibbon, or orangutan DNAs. These results suggest either that this family of sequences has been deleted from humans, gibbons, and orangutans, or that the genes were recently acquired in the chimpanzee and gorilla lineages.