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 Genome Initiative Urgently Works to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Smithsonian senior research botanist Vicki Funk says ultimate goal is 'trying to get one-half of the diversity of plant life on Earth at the genus level in two years' More

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs