The genetic sequence of gibbons has been mapped, making the species the last ape to have their entire sequence revealed.

Gibbons are native to the forests of Southeast Asia, and spend their days swinging from branch to branch in the thick woodland. These leaps can carry the nimble animals for up to 50 feet between branches at speeds up to 34 miles per hour. The species has also quickly rearranged chromosomes in their DNA as they evolved.  

Primate biologists wanted to know how gibbons are able to quickly adapt their genetic code to changing conditions.

Chromosomes are packages of genetic information, and are essential in the function of cells, as well as inherited traits, including genetic disease.

Primatologists have known for years that chromosomes in gibbons has changed frequently - and quickly - over the course of their evolution. Such chromosomal rearrangements are responsible for several diseases having a genetic basis.

The study found an unusual repeat element, a snippet of DNA that occurs multiple times in a genome, present in the genes. This LAVA element assists in rapid re-arrangement of chromosomes.

"The gibbon sequence represents a branch of the primate evolutionary tree that spans the gap between the Old World Monkeys and great apes and has not yet been studied in this way. The new genome sequence provides important insight into their unique and rapid chromosomal rearrangements," Jeffrey Rogers, from the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center  and lead author of the study, said.

The genetic history and family tree of gibbons were still a matter of debate, until now. Some of these questions involved learning how the species developed the long, strong arms required for swinging from one branch to another. The recent sequencing of their genetic code should soon answer that question, among others.

Cancer research could be greatly impacted by research obtained by sequencing of the gibbon genetic code. This class of diseases is closely tied to actions of chromosomes revealed in the mapping.

"Everything we learn about the genome sequence of this particular primate and others analyzed in the recent past helps us to understand human biology in a more detailed and complete way," Rogers said.

Gibbons are one of the rarest species on Earth. The highly-social animals are also extremely territorial, defending their territory from any threatening intruder. Sounds created by the animals announcing their territory can be heard for sixth-tenths of a mile through the forest.

Sequencing of the genetic code of gibbons and investigation into rapidly-adapting sequences, was profiled in the journal Nature

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