Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Closer to man than ape

New DNA evidence strengthens the case that chimpanzees should be classified alongside humans in the Homo genus:

The tests showed that even though humans and chimps split from a common ancestor between 5m and 7m years ago, the rate at which their genetic codes were evolving was extremely similar, differing by only 3%, and much slower than gorillas and orang-utans…

In 1991, the Pulitzer prize-winning ecologist Jared Diamond called humans "the third chimpanzee", setting us alongside the common chimp (Pan troglodytes) and its less aggressive but astoundingly promiscuous cousin, the bonobo (Pan paniscus). By 1999 confusion over the biological status of chimpanzees prompted scientists in New Zealand to join forces with lawyers to petition the country's government to pass a bill conferring "rights" on chimpanzees and other primates.

Chimps and bonobos are the subject of a fascinating book I read during my psychology degree, The Demonic Male. They are also the stars (along with Tinky Winky) of the funniest cartoon I have ever read.

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