A genetic variation has been linked to the emergence of malaria resistance in wild baboons, the first time that a specific DNA change has been linked to a complex trait in a natural population of non-human primates. The results, reported in Nature, suggest that the genetic basis of complex traits may show parallels across different primate species.
Jenny Tung and colleagues analysed blood samples from 190 yellow baboons (Papio cynocephalus) living in Kenya's Amboseli National Park. Six single-base-pair changes were spotted in a regulatory region of the malaria-related FY gene. Genetic variation in this region was associated with variation in susceptibility to a malaria-like pathogen and also influenced gene expression in vivo in wild animals.
Understanding the ecology, behaviour and genetics of non-human primates should shed light on our own evolution, yet functional genetic analyses like this one are rare. This study suggests that the evolution of malaria resistance in wild baboons shares mechanistic and evolutionary parallels with the similar genetic region in humans.
Jenny Tung (Duke University, Durham, NC, USA)
Abstract available online.
(C) Nature press release.
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