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

    US, Allies Discuss Next Steps in Islamic State Fight

    Meeting comes a day after US Navy SEAL was killed while fighting Islamic State forces in northern Iraq

    In China, Traditional Banks Fight Challenge From Internet Firms

    Internet companies lent more than $150 billion to customers in 2015, which is an extremely small amount compared to the much larger lending by commercial banks last year

    Trump Faces Tough Presidential Odds Against Clinton

    According to analysts, early indications are that Republican front-runner faces daunting contest against likely Democratic candidate, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora