The genetic impact of an Ebola outbreak on a wild gorilla population

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Background: Numerous Ebola virus outbreaks have occurred in Equatorial Africa over the past decades. Besides human fatalities, gorillas and chimpanzees have also succumbed to the fatal virus. The 2004 outbreak at the Odzala-Kokoua National Park (Republic of Congo) alone caused a severe decline in the resident western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) population, with a 95% mortality rate. Here, we explore the immediate genetic impact of the Ebola outbreak in the western lowland gorilla population. Results: Associations with survivorship were evaluated by utilizing DNA obtained from fecal samples from 16 gorilla individuals declared missing after the outbreak (non-survivors) and 15 individuals observed before and after the epidemic (survivors). We used a target enrichment approach to capture the sequences of 123 genes previously associated with immunology and Ebola virus resistance and additionally analyzed the gut microbiome which could influence the survival after an infection. Our results indicate no changes in the population genetic diversity before and after the Ebola outbreak, and no significant differences in microbial community composition between survivors and non-survivors. However, and despite the low power for an association analysis, we do detect six nominally significant missense mutations in four genes that might be candidate variants associated with an increased chance of survival. Conclusion: This study offers the first insight to the genetics of a wild great ape population before and after an Ebola outbreak using target capture experiments from fecal samples, and presents a list of candidate loci that may have facilitated their survival.

Original languageEnglish
Article number735
JournalBMC Genomics
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • candidate genes, Ebola, gorilla, non-invasive samples

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