Chimp's gene map may help to understand human diseases

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The genetic code of man's closest living relative, the chimpanzee, has been mapped and analysed by an international team of researchers.

Scientists are close to identifying the small but important differences between chimpanzees and humans, who are 99 per cent identical in the most important areas of their "life codes".

Scientists believe that the chimp genome published today in the journal Nature will help researchers to understand the genetic basis of many human diseases, as well as coming closer to explaining the fundamental essence of humanity.

Even taking into account subtle differences in DNA, the first comprehensive comparison of the genomes confirmed they share 96 per cent of their DNA - 60 times closer than man and mouse.

For some parts of the genome the differences are less pronounced, underlining the fact that humans and chimps shared a common ancestor between five and seven million years ago. Scientists also hope the chimp blueprint will add urgency to the preservation of this endangered species - one of several great apes that are threatened with extinction, according to an atlas of apes published today by the UN Environment Programme.

Richard Wilson, the director of the Genome Sequencing Centre at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, said: "Such a comparison will allow us to learn more about how our own genome has evolved and gain a better understanding as to why we get ... diseases that chimpanzees rarely suffer."

A second study on the threats to endangered apes has found that poverty in the countries where the six species of great ape live is their greatest threat.