What can we find out from animals?
You share a lot of similar genes with other animals. When modern genetic research first started, scientists couldn’t study the human genome directly as they didn’t have the right technology and it would have taken too long to sequence the DNA. So they started looking at animals with smaller genomes such as fruit flies and nematode worms. It is also simpler to study the role of a single gene by looking at its effects on the bodies of these simpler animals. Without this, our understanding of genetics would never have got to where it is now.
How closely are you related to a chimpanzee?
There is only a 4% difference between our genome and that of our closest cousin, the chimpanzee. Yet we are very different. For example, humans have a much more highly developed brain, and chimps don’t develop diseases such as AIDS, coronary heart disease, malaria or chronic viral hepatitis as we do. These and many other differences are all down to that 4% difference. Studying what makes chimpanzees resistant to those diseases could help us find new treatments.
Which other species’ genomes have been sequenced?
Scientists have sequenced the human genome, but now there’s lots of ongoing work to sequence the genomes of all living things on Earth – animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and viruses. For example, the pig and the cow genomes were completed in 2009. Plants’ genomes are also being sequenced – it turns out that rice has about 50,900 genes, approximately double the number humans have.