September 9, 2009
Mobile DNA studied in British chimpanzees
British scientists say they are using chimpanzees to study so-called mobile DNA that is found in the genomes of humans and other primates.
Researchers at the University of Leicester said most genes are always found in the same place in the genome. But the genes the scientists are studying have been moving around the genome throughout mammalian and primate evolution, and are still doing so.
This makes every human -- and every chimpanzee for that matter -- a little bit different at the DNA level, a little like a DNA fingerprint, said geneticist Richard Badge, who is leading the study.
Badge said the chimpanzees being studied at the Twycross Zoo are valuable because not only do they include unrelated chimpanzees, but they also have small family groups where the relationships between the individuals is known. That enables researchers to observe difference between individuals in terms of their mobile DNA.
The chimps have been trained using positive reinforcement to open their mouths to allow the DNA swabbing. They are rewarded with grapes.
The ability to acquire DNA samples from our chimpanzees without a general anesthetic is a leap into the future, said Bridget Fry, the zoo's animal health and research manager.
The information the DNA samples can give the zoo means correct matches with breeding animals can be made within the breeding programs.