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

Video Analysts: Beijing Parade a 'Bazaar' of Stolen Technology

Show commemorating victory over Japan in World War II involved long, medium and short range missiles, a range of tanks and 200 fighter aircraft More

Bernie Sanders Surge Reflects US Shift on Socialism

Although most analysts say it is unlikely he will get the Democratic nomination, Sanders' campaign opens up questions and issues that are otherwise marginalized More

Video On IS Frontline, Kurdish Fighters Ready for Offensive

Peshmerga soldiers say although they need more heavy artillery, they are poised to take the fight to the Islamic State extremists on their turf More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outragei
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 04, 2015 11:36 AM
The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Drowned Migrant Toddler Photo Triggers European Outrage

The harrowing picture of a drowned three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach appears to have galvanized Europe’s leaders into doing more to address the refugee crisis. France, Germany and Italy issued a joint call Thursday for compulsory quotas of refugees for all EU states. But there were chaotic scenes in Hungary as police tried to force migrants off a train heading for Austria. Henry Ridgwell has more. And a caution, some of the images in this report may be disturbing.
Video

Video Russians Observe 11th Anniversary of Beslan School Attack

This week, Russians have been observing the 11th anniversary of the attack by Islamic militants on a school in Russia's North Caucasus region that killed more than 330 hostages, including 186 children. The three-day siege and massacre that started on September 1, 2004 took place in Beslan, a town in the republic of North Ossetia, and is one of the bloodiest terrorist acts ever in Russia. VOA's Mike Richman reports.
Video

Video Native Americans Debate: Father Serra, Saint or Sinner?

Pope Francis will canonize an 18th century missionary to Spanish California during a papal visit to the United States this month.  But some Native Americans have criticized the elevation to sainthood of the missionary priest, Junipero Serra. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video China Announces Troop Cuts at WWII Parade

Chinese President Xi Jinping Thursday announced plans to cut the world’s largest military force by 300,000 troops. The announcement was made during a massive military parade to commemorate victory over Japan in World War II. The event was shunned by most Western leaders and for some is raising fresh concerns about China’s military ambitions. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.

VOA Blogs