Bonobo Genome Found Strikingly Similar To Humans and
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com
June 14, 2012
The bonobo, one of man's closest relatives, has had its
genome completely mapped by German researchers, placing
a new checkmark in the DNA-sequencing list that already
includes humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans,
giving scientists a complete record of the great ape
The achievement, published Wednesday in the journal
Nature, should help scientists, together with the other
great ape genome maps, better understand human
evolution. Humans share a genetically close bond with
the peaceful, yet little-understood bonobo, as well as
the more violent, but better-understood chimpanzee.
Bonobos and humans share 98.7 percent of the same
genetic blueprint, the same amount shared between humans
and chimps, the study found. The team also found that
chimps and bonobos share 99.6 percent of their genomes
with each other.
"Humans are a little like a mosaic of bonobo and
chimpanzee genomes," said study lead author Kay Pruefer,
a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
Pruefer worked with an international team of researchers
to sequence the DNA of Ulindi, a female bonobo at
Leipzig Zoo in Germany.
"There's a common ancestor that we and these apes were
derived from. We want to know what that ancestor looked
like," Wes Warren, a geneticist at Washington University
in St. Louis, who was not involved in the research, told
the LA Times. "By adding the bonobo to the mix, we have
a better idea."
Comparing Ulindi's DNA, along with a few other bonobos,
with the DNA of chimps from different areas of Africa,
Pruefer and his colleagues found that bonobos share
similar amounts of DNA with all of them. That suggests
that the split between chimps and bonobos was rapid and
complete, with mating between groups nearly non-
existent, noted Pruefer. Otherwise, there would have
been a clear sign of genetically similar chimps living
nearer to bonobo territories.
Both bonobos and chimps have distinctly different
behaviors that are seen in humans. Bonobos are thought
of as peaceful, loving creatures, while their closely-
related counterparts, the chimps, have been documented
to kill and make war, Duke University researcher Brian
Hare told the Associated Press (AP). Bonobos share food
with complete strangers, whereas chimps do not. Bonobos
stay close to their mothers long after infancy, which is
similar humans; and chimps use tools better and have
bigger brains, also like humans, Hare explained.
Pruefer noted that bonobos, chimps and humans all shared
a single common ancestor about 6 million years ago.
Chimps and bonobos shared the same common ancestor until
about a million years ago, when the Congo River formed,
after which bonobos developed on one side of the river,
chimps on the other.
Bonobos have slightly smaller heads than chimps, and
their teeth are arranged differently. The behavior of
bonobos is much more on the tolerant side, being more
social, whereas chimps tend to release tension by
fighting, said Hare. Bonobos are also ruled by alpha
females, while chimps are ruled by males.
Hare told AP reporter Seth Borenstein that bonobos are
like a child version of the chimp. "They never grow up
and we have lots of data to support this idea. Much of
their psychology seems to be frozen."
Pruefer and colleagues are hoping to learn something
about the origin of the behaviors seen in bonobos and
chimps, and the degree to which they are influenced by
"That's the great hope," Pruefer told BBC News. "If you
look at bonobos, chimpanzees and humans, what you can
see is that there are some specific characteristics that
we share with both of them."
"So, for instance, the non-conceptive sexual behavior is
a trait that is certainly shared with bonobos, while the
aggressive behavior unfortunately is also a trait that
is shared with chimpanzees," Pruefer said. "In a way, it
is a question of what the ancestor of all three looked
like. Which one actually evolved the new trait here?"
The researchers said they plan to look deeper into those
areas of the genome where humans share more similarity
to either bonobos or chimps. It turns out that more than
3 percent of the human genome is more closely related to
either bonobos' or chimpanzees' genome than these are
too each other.
"The genome is a resource for further study. You have to
go and test the genes," he said.
And that is just what we plan to do, he concluded.
Source: redOrbit (http://s.tt/1erl1)
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