A new DNA study by researchers from Washington University revealed previous unknown genetic variations among members of the great Ape family, which provide helpful clues regarding how humans evolved from apes.

In a DNA study, researchers from Washington University were able to put together a model of great ape history spanning 15 million years. They were able to categories genetic variations in humans, chimps, gorillas and orangutans into a massive database of great ape genetic diversity. This is the largest study of its kind.

"[The study] will help conservation efforts that seek to preserve their natural genetic diversity," said co-author Richard K. Wilson, PhD, director of The Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where much of the genome sequencing was performed, in a press statement.

The study included efforts from 75 scientists and wildlife conservationists who analyzed 79 wild and captive-born great apes, representing all six of its  species: chimpanzee, bonobo, Sumatran orangutan, Bornean orangutan, eastern gorilla and western lowland gorilla, and seven subspecies. They also analyzed the genomes of nine humans.

"This is fascinating research. Besides telling us many interesting things about the genetic relationships and diversity among our close relatives, the study provides some important lessons regarding how our own genome responds to the pressure of population changes," Wilson said.

Previously, scientists were not aware of the fact that the great ape family also had genetic variations as it is difficult to obtain genetic specimens from wild apes of different regions of the globe. However, the joint efforts of scientists and wildlife conservationists from across the world made it possible for researchers of this study to gain access to genetic specimens from different parts of the planet.

After studying these specimens, researchers concluded that natural selections, geographical isolation, population growth and collapse, migration, geographical and climate changes contributed in a major way to the evolution of humans from apes.

The findings of the study were published July 3 on the online edition of the journal Nature.