Tarsiers are indigenous to the islands of Southeast Asia, but visitors to the zoo should also be familiar with these charming monkeys with their conspicuously big eyes. A meeting with them in the monkey house is practically a visit with our own relatives, a new study now shows.
For decades, we remained in the dark regarding the evolutionary origin of the tarsiers, but now a new scientific study has brought light into this dark corner of our knowledge; the tarsiers, or Ghost Monkeys, are indisputably much more closely related to humans and other higher primates than previously imagined. The research group of Dr. Jürgen Schmitz in the Institute of Experimental Pathology at the University of Münster in Germany, funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG), has finally resolved the controversial question of the phylogenetic decent and evolutionary history of this branch of higher primates. The results of their scientific analyses have just been published online in the journal "Nature Scientific Reports".The tarsiers were long thought to represent the very first branching on the evolutionary tree of primates, and thus more distantly related to humans and other higher primates. But this view was already shaken in 2001, when Dr. Jürgen Schmitz and his colleagues identified 50-million-year-old so called ‘Jumping genes’ in the current genomes of tarsiers. “These jumping genes are contemporary, quasi fossilized genomic witnesses of tarsiers much closer relationship to humans than to other prosimians,” explained Schmitz. Unfortunately, over the next twelve years, others’ analyses of tarsier DNA sequences could not definitively confirm their placement on this branch of the evolutionary tree of primates – until now.
Dr. Christina Heimken | idw
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