News / Science & Technology

Scientists Unravel 'Hippie Chimp' Genome

Bonobos share almost 99 percent of human DNA

Scientist Kay Prufer and his colleagues studied this female bonobo called Ulindi, who lives in the Leipzig Zoo in Germany, to help map the bonobo genome.  (© MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology)
Scientist Kay Prufer and his colleagues studied this female bonobo called Ulindi, who lives in the Leipzig Zoo in Germany, to help map the bonobo genome. (© MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology)
In a development which could lead to a better understanding of human evolution, scientists have unlocked the genetic map of the bonobo, a large and mild-mannered species of African ape.

Chimpanzees and bonobos share almost 99 percent of human DNA.
 
The scientists who recently mapped the bonobo genome found that, in three percent of that shared genetic material, humans are more closely related to both bonobos and chimpanzees than the two apes are to each other.

“Bonobos and chimpanzees are both our closest ancestor and living relatives and that is something that you can clearly see in the genome," says Kay Prufer, with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who was one of the researchers. "I think the most interesting thing that I saw in the genome is this 1.5 percent of the genome where bonobos are closer to us, and the 1.5 percent of the genome where chimpanzees are closer to us."
Bonobos and chimpanzees are both the closest ancestors and living relatives of humans.(Michael Seres)Bonobos and chimpanzees are both the closest ancestors and living relatives of humans.(Michael Seres)
x
Bonobos and chimpanzees are both the closest ancestors and living relatives of humans.(Michael Seres)
Bonobos and chimpanzees are both the closest ancestors and living relatives of humans.(Michael Seres)

Prufer notes the genetic differences between the bonobo and chimpanzees may be the result of the apes’ distinct habitats. In the wild, bonobos can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“The formation of the Congo river, which is about two million years ago, probably divided up the ancestor in two different parts," Prufer says, "the one below the Congo river, which are the bonobos, and the chimpanzees, which live north of the Congo river; and this geological event essentially divided up this ancestor and formed these two different species.”

Richard Ruggiero, chief of the Asia & Africa branch at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, believes the mapping of the bonobo genome is an important development.
 
“It’s always interesting to have genetic proof of what people see in the field," Ruggiero says. "It’s exciting to get this information that it [the bonobo] shares its genetic proximity to people and, of course, to chimpanzees, and the differences that we see with how chimpanzees have adapted to their environment and how bonobos have adapted to theirs. As the author points out, they were thought to be represented by a common ancestor say a million years ago, and how the selective pressures have genetically changed these animals in ways that are now becoming increasingly visible.”

Ruggiero believes these scientific findings could be of great help to the bonobo, the world’s most endangered primate.

“In the near term, it will raise interest, and that’s very important because awareness is the first step in conservation," he says. "And developing the will to do something about it is the second step in conservation. And the third step is understanding what to do about it in order to act on that greater will and awareness.”

Ruggiero says the new research makes him feel more optimistic about the future of the bonobos.

“I think this paper brings some of the intuitions we’ve had, full circle and puts numbers and more concrete scientific information on something that is quite obvious for those of us who have been closer to them and so this paper is a wonderful step forward not only in science but in that important first step of awareness about the plight of this species and what we as humans need to do to ensure that our own activities don’t wipe them out.”
 
Working with local communities, several conservation groups have set up protected areas in the Congo for the bonobos. And a large bonobo sanctuary just outside of Kinshasa is helping to re-introduce orphaned bonobos back into the wild.  

The new analysis of the  bonobo genome is published in this week’s issue of the science journal Nature.

You May Like

N. Korea Sentences American to 6 Years Hard Labor

Matthew Miller's brief trial Sunday comes two weeks after 24-year old Miller and two other American detainees appealed to the US government to help free them More

Pakistan Rejects Afghan Criticism of 480-kilometer Border Trench

Military spokesman tells VOA the project is part of administrative and security measures taken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan More

Photogallery Typhoon Kalmaegi Makes Landfall in Philippines

Storm makes landfall late Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interesti
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 12, 2014 8:35 PM
The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza

After almost two months of conflict in Gaza, Palestinians are preparing to rebuild the isolated Mediterranean enclave with assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, an international human rights group has found that Israel likely violated international laws of war during some of its attacks on Gaza. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Middle Eastern Church Leaders Highlight Christians’ Plight

Patriarchs of Eastern Rite churches came to Washington this week to draw attention to the attacks against Christians in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. VOA’s religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid