Although human biomedical and physiological information is readily available, such information for great apes is limited. We analyzed clinical chemical biomarkers in serum samples from 277 wild- and captive-born great apes and from 312 healthy human volunteers as well as from 20 rhesus macaques. For each individual, we determined a maximum of 33 markers of heart, liver, kidney, thyroid and pancreas function, hemoglobin and lipid metabolism and one marker of inflammation. We identified biomarkers that show differences between humans and the great apes in their average level or activity. Using the rhesus macaques as an outgroup, we identified human-specific differences in the levels of bilirubin, cholinesterase and lactate dehydrogenase, and bonobo-specific differences in the level of apolipoprotein A-I. For the remaining twenty-nine biomarkers there was no evidence for lineage-specific differences. In fact, we find that many biomarkers show differences between individuals of the same species in different environments. Of the four lineagespecific biomarkers, only bilirubin showed no differences between wild- and captive-born great apes. We show that the major factor explaining the human-specific difference in bilirubin levels may be genetic. There are human-specific changes in the sequence of the promoter and the protein-coding sequence of uridine diphosphoglucuronosyltransferase 1 (UGT1A1), the enzyme that transforms bilirubin and toxic plant compounds into water-soluble, excretable metabolites. Experimental evidence that UGT1A1 is down-regulated in the human liver suggests that changes in the promoter may be responsible for the human-specific increase in bilirubin. We speculate that since cooking reduces toxic plant compounds, consumption of cooked foods, which is specific to humans, may have resulted in relaxed constraint on UGT1A1 which has in turn led to higher serum levels of bilirubin in humans.
Ronke, C., Dannemann, M., Halbwax, M., Fischer, A., Helmschrodt, C., Brügel, M., … Kelso, J. (2015). Lineage-specific changes in biomarkers in great apes and humans. PLoS ONE, 10(8). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134548