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Bonobos Join Chimps as Closest Human Relatives

from ScienceNOW Daily News

Chimpanzees now have to share the distinction of being our closest living relative in the animal kingdom. An international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of the bonobo for the first time, confirming that it shares the same percentage of its DNA with us as chimps do. The team also found some small but tantalizing differences in the genomes of the three species--differences that may explain how bonobos and chimpanzees don't look or act like us even though we share about 99% of our DNA.

"We're so closely related genetically, yet our behavior is so different," says team member and computational biologist Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "This will allow us to look for the genetic basis of what makes modern humans different from both bonobos and chimpanzees."

Ever since researchers sequenced the chimp genome in 2005, they have known that humans share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, making them our closest living relatives. But there are actually two species of chimpanzees that are this closely related to humans: bonobos (Pan paniscus) and the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes). This has prompted researchers to speculate whether the ancestor of humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos looked and acted more like a bonobo, a chimpanzee, or something else--and how all three species have evolved differently since the ancestor of humans split with the common ancestor of bonobos and chimps between 5 million and 7 million years ago in Africa.

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