In Nature this week, a team led by researchers from the Oregon Health and Sciences University reports the sequence of the gibbon genome, providing new insights into the evolution that helped these apes adapt to their jungle habitat. Part of the same superfamily as humans and great apes, gibbons are on the divide between Old World monkeys and great apes, and have a very large number of chromosomal rearrangements. Through their analysis of a northern white-cheeked gibbon's genome, the scientists theorize that the spread of genetic elements that preferentially insert into chromosome segregation genes, combined with episodes of climatic and environmental change, contributed to the variation in the chromosomes of gibbons. They also identified signatures of positive selection in genes involved in forelimb development and connective tissue, which could help explain adaptations that have made gibbons particularly suited to swinging through trees. GenomeWeb Daily News has more on the gibbon genome here.
Meanwhile, in Nature Communications, scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and elsewhere uncover genetic variations that appear to have enabled the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, to infect humans. They also report that the parasite likely evolved from prehistoric African great apes parasites. The team sequenced the genome of the chimpanzee parasite P. reichenowi and found that the genomes of it and P. falciparum are almost entirely conserved. However, there are key differences in genes associated with the blood stages of the parasites' life cycles, namely at the point in which the parasite interacts with its host's red blood and endothelial cells. They also identify a number of genes with unknown functions that may contribute to host specificity.