Humans have long known chimpanzees were our closest cousins - but it seems we have plenty in common with gorillas, too.

After sequencing their genetic code, experts have found that 15 per cent of a gorilla's DNA is closer to humans than a chimp's.

The 'shared' pool includes genes involved in brain development and hearing, challenging the theory that humans' sophisticated listening abilities evolved when we developed language.

Scientists believe the findings could shed new light on how humans evolved.


Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge found that our genes and those of the gorilla are 98 per cent identical, although we share around 99 per cent of our make-up with chimpanzees.

Unlike other apes, gorillas' hearing appears to have evolved to our advanced level. Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, co-author of the team's study, said: 'We found that gorillas share many parallel genetic changes with humans, including the evolution of our hearing and sensory perception, which was very interesting.

"Gorillas have a system of communication which is different from human language, and this raises the possibility that it could be a lot more complex than we thought."

The research also revealed that certain variants of genes which cause genetic disease in humans - including one associated with dementia and another with heart failure - are common in gorillas but do not cause ill-health. Scientists believe the findings could help establish how the conditions could be prevented.

The human genome was sequenced in 2000 by an international team, including British scientists. The same was done for the chimpanzee in 2005, and the orangutan - which shares around 97 per cent of its genes with us - has also been studied.

The latest research confirms that chimpanzees are closest to humans in 70 per cent of our genes, while gorillas are closest to us in 15 per cent. The animals are closest to each other in the remaining 15 per cent.

The lead author of the Sanger team's report, Dr Richard Durbin, said: "I'd like to think that in the next 20 or 30 years we will get a deeper understanding of what happened genetically in our evolutionary history, and of how those genes affect the brain and other properties that make us modern humans."

Gorillas are thought to have broken off from the other great apes about 10million years ago, while chimpanzees and humans split four million years later.