Gibbons are small, tree-living apes from Southeast Asia, many species of which are endangered. They are part of the same superfamily as humans and great apes, but sit on the divide between Old-World monkeys and the great apes.
These creatures have several distinctive traits, such as an unusually large number of chromosomal rearrangements, and different numbers of chromosomes are seen in individual species.
Researchers recently completed analysis of the mobile elements in the gibbon genome. This included the characterization of the mobile genetic element called LAVA. LAVA is made up of pieces of known jumping genes and named after its main components: L1, Alu, and the VA section of SVA mobile elements.
The gibbon-specific LAVA element represents only the second type of composite mobile element discovered in primates, since the discovery of the mobile element SVA in humans. The sequencing, assembly and analysis of the gibbon genome provide new insights into the biology and evolutionary history of this family of apes.
Factors that might have contributed to gibbon diversity and that might have helped gibbons to adapt to their jungle habitat are reported.
As part of the gibbon genome project, Louisiana State University's Mark Batzer analyzed the evolution of gibbon-specific mobile elements, including their subfamily structure and distribution among the various gibbon species. The discovery of LAVA further highlights the dynamic evolution of mobile elements and their dynamic impact on primate genomes.
Batzer runs the Batzer Laboratory of Comparative Genomics in the LSU College of Science, which specializes in the study of mobile DNA elements, often called "jumping genes" or even "junk DNA."
These mobile elements have been found to cause insertions and deletions, which can lead to genetic diseases in humans as well as the creation of new genes and gene families in the genome. Because of this, understanding the impact of mobile elements on genome structure is paramount to understanding the function of the genome.