Genetic adaptations to virus and the environment in wild chimpanzees.

Theme: Evolution & Adaptation

Primary Supervisor:

Aida Andres

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Aida Andres's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Ziheng Yang

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Ziheng Yang's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives but, like all non-human great apes, are endangered. They inhabit a large geographic area in Sub-Saharan Africa, with habitats ranging from deep forest to woodland savannah. Chimpanzees adapt behaviourally to their local habitat, but whether they are also genetically adapted remains unknown.

To answer this question, and in the context of the PanAfrican project, we generated and analysed hundreds of exomes from wild chimpanzees. Our latest results indicate that chimpanzees are indeed genetically locally adapted. Savannah communities appear to have acquired physiological adaptations, while forest communities show adaptation to the high diversity of forest pathogens (including malaria). We don’t have a full picture yet, but this work shows that local adaptation has shaped chimpanzee evolution, with wild communities being differentiated in critical adaptive traits.

The proposed project will build on this work. We will use over 800 exomes from non-invasive samples and sophisticated population genetics methods to establish the influence of local adaptation in wild chimpanzees. Going beyond habitat type, we aim to identify the selective pressures driving novel adaptation and to pinpoint the individual loci mediating these adaptations.

Other projects in the group include unravelling the mechanisms of genetic adaptation to viruses using chimpanzee genetic to zoonotic SIV (the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus that generated HIV), establishing the effects of mating behaviour on the efficacy of natural selection in the genomes of bonobos, investigating the interplay between balancing selection and adaptive introgression in humans and other primates, or establishing human local adaptation using aDNA.

Policy Impact of Research:

We will establish methodologies to identify adaptations that allow reservoir species to control zoonotic viruses. We will generate critical information about SIV, a virus that infects dozens of primates, is highly zoonotic and recombines easily to generate strains. Further zoonotic transmissions to humans or endangered primates are likely and dangerous.

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