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Major histocompatibility complex and microsatellite variation in two populations of wild gorillas


Dieter Lukas. Fax: + 49-341-3550–299; E-mail:


In comparison to their close relatives the chimpanzees and humans, very little is known concerning the amount and structure of genetic variation in gorillas. Two species of gorillas are recognized and while the western gorillas number in the tens of thousands, only several hundred representatives of the mountain gorilla subspecies of eastern gorillas survive. To analyse the possible effects of these different population sizes, this study compares the variation observed at microsatellite and major histocompatibility complex (MHC) loci in samples of wild western and mountain gorillas, collected using a sampling scheme that targeted multiple social groups within defined geographical areas. Noninvasive samples proved a viable source of DNA for sequence analysis of the second exon of the DRB loci of the MHC. Observed levels of variation at the MHC locus were similar between the two gorilla species and were comparable to those in other primates. Comparison of results from analysis of variation at multiple microsatellite loci found only a slight reduction in heterozygosity for the mountain gorillas despite the relatively smaller population size.