An international team of experts has compiled the world’s largest wild chimpanzee genome catalog by sequencing DNA found in hundreds of samples from monkeys’ stool.
The team was led by the Institute for Evolutionary Biology (IBE), the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI EVA) and the University of Leipzig.
A statement obtained from iDiv revealed that experts had harvested genomic information from hundreds of chimpanzee stool samples.
They say the DNA map could clarify questions about the evolutionary past of monkeys and be used to crack down on poachers and smugglers.
An iDiv statement read: “The new genome atlas, Published in Cell Genomicshas the ability to map illegal trafficking routes and sources that can be used to protect this endangered species.”
They explained that chimpanzees live in the forests and forests of the tropical African savannah and that unlike ancient human sites, primarily in caves and in temperate climates, the places where chimpanzees live means that there are very few “preserved or discovered specimens in the archaeological record.”
“Given the almost complete absence of chimpanzee fossils, genetic information from current populations is essential to describe their evolutionary history and genetic diversity and contribute to their conservation,” the experts said.
The statement added: “Genetic information was retrieved using new techniques, from hundreds of non-invasive chimpanzee stool samples collected.
“For the first time, methods applied to analyze ancient DNA in human populations have been used to retrieve genetic information from fecal samples of great apes.
“Furthermore, the genomic database developed by the team can be used practically for chimpanzee conservation, such as identifying routes for the illegal trade in wildlife products and orphans.”
By collecting more than 800 samples of chimpanzee feces, the research could help identify migration patterns going back 100,000 years, experts say.
Professor Thomas Marques-Bonet, of IBE and one of the study’s authors said: “Using methods designed to study ancient DNA, as in the case of Neanderthals, we were able to retrieve genomic information from stool samples, which are very difficult to work with.
“We have applied this approach to an unprecedented number of chimpanzee specimens from the field.”
Dr Claudia Fontseri, a researcher in the IBE Comparative Genomics Group and first author of the study said: “We have seen that stool samples, while posing technical difficulties, provide very valuable genomic information for studying wild chimpanzee populations, and also allow us to geotag and trace contacts between populations without impact on their well-being.
She added: “We have observed that sometimes, although there are two communities that are very geographically close, they may live on different sides of the river and have had very limited and intermittent contact.
“Our approach is very useful for identifying natural barriers and corridors between populations and may have conservation implications.”
Claudia Fontseri / Zinger
Co-author Dr. Mimi Arangelovic, a researcher at iDiv, MPI EVA and the University of Leipzig, who has spent eight years collecting behavioral, ecological and organic data from across the entire chimpanzee population, said: “Chimpanzees, like humans, have a complex evolutionary history.
“Their dynamics and areas of past and present population contact must be clearly defined in order to contribute to the protection of this endangered species.”
Arangelovic is also co-director of the Pan-African Program: Cultured Chimpanzees (PanAf), a consortium of researchers and conservationists from Africa, Europe and North America.
Chimpanzees are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The new tool will help researchers find out where individuals originally came from, which was not possible until now.
The statement said: “The new genomic tool has allowed the team to reliably determine where individuals originate; a task that has hitherto been futile.
“The ability to accurately determine the origin of chimpanzees has direct conservation applications, such as discovering places where poaching may be concentrated and identifying the routes and origins of the illegal chimpanzee trade.”
“The developed instrument can infer the origin of confiscated chimpanzees, which are typically located a few hundred kilometers from their true origin, thus providing reliable information on the areas most in need of protection,” Marques-Bonet added.
This story was provided to Newsweek by Zinger news.