Research by Biological Sciences Professor Mary Katherine Gonder and her colleagues was the cover story of the March 22nd issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Professor Gonder and her colleagues work has added a great deal of new information about the understudied Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee. Persons from Gonder's research group who worked on the paper include, U Albany Biology graduate students, Lora Ghobrial and Matt Mitchell, along with Sabrina Locatelli, a post-doctoral researcher in her lab. Also, Biological Sciences Professor Caro-Beth Stewart contributed her expertise in phylogenetics and primate evolution to the interpretation of the data, and also helped to write the manuscript.
Gonder and her group compared the population genetics of chimpanzees living in a sanctuary in Cameroon to chimpanzees from other regions of Africa and discovered that the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee is very different from all other chimpanzee subspecies. That finding meant that a new model for interpreting the diversity and recent evolution of chimpanzees across the entire range in Africa needed to be developed. This model has implications for understanding many aspects of chimpanzee ecology, culture and epidemiology. Of special note, our findings have implications for understanding why the SIVcpz virus occurs at a high prevalence in chimpanzees across equatorial Africa but is absent in Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees and those further to the west. In addition, SIVcpz from southern Cameroon is the most likely progenitor of HIV group M in humans, the virus largely responsible for the global HIV-AIDS pandemic. Gonder and her group have not figured out why SIVcpz is absent in Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees. Exploring the reasons for its absence is of great interest to the medical community. Roughly six thousand Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees are left in the wild, and they are classified as critically endangered by the IUCN
Biology Faculty: M.K. Gonder
Biological Sciences Department