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Report on SAGA2/COE Symposium

Genetic variability among chimpanzee subspecies and the implications for biomedical research.

Dr. John J. Ely, Bioqual, Inc., Rockville, MD, 20850, USA

     Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) are our most closely related non human primate relatives genetically and resemble us in many phenotypic and cultural traits. Consequently, chimpanzees are of considerable interest to anthropologists interested in human evolution and are a vital animal model in biomedical research. In the last 5-10 years, extensive progress has been made using DNA techniques for characterizing the chimpanzee genome and to elucidate the genetic structure of natural chimpanzee societies. Laboratory work has proceeded through the characterization of non-coding but highly polymorphic short tandem repeat (STR) markers, creating multilocus DNA profiles for characterizing individuals and populations. Fieldwork has proceeded through sequencing the non coding but hyper variable mtDNA D-loop, primarily in West and East African populations, then analyzing the data to detect population structure. These areas of inquiry have proceeded in relative isolation. However, since legal export of African chimpanzees terminated with CITES 25 years ago, most African-born founders of captive breeding populations have died or become aged, many of whom failed to reproduce in captivity. Although strong, direct evidence of nuclear genetic differences among chimpanzee subspecies is not yet forthcoming, some phenotypic differences with probable genetic bases are known. Meanwhile, a powerful bias in subspecies composition of captive NIH-supported populations has been revealed, even as the origins of several newly emerged viral pathogens, including HIV-1 and simian foamy viruses, have been traced to the Central African P.t. troglodytes subspecies. Today, founder contribution to captive populations has become a critical issue, human genome advances are increasingly impacting non human primate genetics, and captive and naturalistic studies are converging. In my survey, I will report on subspecies composition of NIH captive breeders, on the use of STRs to define genetic uniqueness among founders, on how nuclear and phenotypic genetic differentiation among chimpanzee subspecies might impact biomedical research (especially hepatitis and AIDS, the primary human diseases for which chimpanzees are used as models), and on the directions chimpanzee genetics research should take in the immediate future.


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