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The completion of the entire genomic sequence of the bonobo (Pan paniscus) put an old debate to rest: that we are more related to chimps (Pan troglodytes) than to bonobos. It turns out that bonobos as 98.7% similar in DNA sequence to humans, the same as chimpanzees. The two species are 99.6% similar to each other; their last common ancestor was ~ 1 million years ago; the two groups probably got separated by the Congo river and gave rise to the two species; there is no evidence, genetic or of other type, that they have interbred ever since. The last time we shared a common ancestor with chimps and bonobos was >5 million years ago. Interestingly, there is 3 % of our genome that is more closely related to bonobos than to chimps, and 3% that .is more related to chimps than bonobos. The explanation: when the ancestral population split, the different groups retained different subsets of sequences from the common ancestor. Interestingly, Another bonobos and humans, but not chimps, have the same version of a protein found in urine, that in mice functions to detect scent differences used as social clues.  Only one bonobo genome has been sequenced so far, that of an 18 year old female living in a German zoo; we will need to sequence the DNA of more bonobos in order to start figuring out what the DNA differences mean in terms of behavior, for example.

Bonobos Join Chimps as Closest Human Relatives

on 13 June 2012
Family ties. The genome of this bonobo, Ulindi, shows how closely humans, chimps, and bonobos are related.
Credit: Max Planck Society

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.

Read the rest here.

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Doone asked for some colorful graphs to explain these finding, here they are, in this post:

Bonobo genome sequenced

ResearchBlogging.orgBonobos (Pan paniscus) are a species of chimp, closely related to their more common cousins, the “chimps” (Pan troglodytes*). The latter are the only species to be referred to as chimpanzees by the general public, despite the fact the term technically applies to the genus Pan  and thus both “chimps” and bonobos.


A bonobo. Doesn’t he look friendly? (Photo credit: tim ellis)

However, this taxonomical misnomer isn’t a bonobo’s only claim to fame. That honour lies with their sexual behaviour, which is famously promiscuous. Indeed, I’d wager most other articles you’ll read about this story start by describing them as “the chimps oversexed cousin” or something similar.

Yet their sexual behaviour is just one small part of what makes bonobos unique. They’re also a lot less aggressive, have a less hierarchical society, are more playful and less politically conniving than regular “chimps”; amongst other things. Physically they’re more gracile than chimps, with a thinner upper body and head; although they are not smaller overall (despite often being referred to as pygmy chimps).

This obviously makes them very interesting to study since if we can uncover what it is that makes P. troglodytes  and bonobos so different we may be able to work out the ultimate cause of those behaviours. If we figure out that some genetic change is responsible for their lack of aggression, for example, then perhaps chimpanzee aggression has a genetic basis. That might also have interesting implications for the source of human aggression, since we’re very closely related to both species.

However, attempts to figure out such interesting things have been hampered by the fact that only small parts of the bonobo genome have been sequenced do far. This work has provided some useful information, such as the fact that bonobos separated from the chimps because they were physically separated by the Congo River. This isolation allowed them to become more and more genetically distinct until they split into the two species we know and love between 1-2 million years ago.

Bonobo and chimp geographical location

The distribution of bonobos (purple) and two groups of “chimps” (green and yellow). Note how all these groups are divided by rivers.

Deciding that this lack of information needed to be rectified a team of geneticists, led by Kay Prüfer of the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (quite what that blokes relationship is to EvoAnth I do not know), sequenced the bonobo genome. Whilst their data has yet to reveal anything quite as profound as the ultimate cause of aggressive behaviour it is still turning up some useful (and interesting) information.

Allopatric speciation

Bonobos are a textbook example of allopatric speciation, a process described in this diagram I pinched from wikipedia

For starters they found that the bits of the bonobo genome that have a corresponding sequence in chimps are 99.6% similar, which is what you’d expect given that they are very closely related. Further, bits of the bonobo genome with a corresponding human sequence are 98.7% similar. Again, this is what you’d expect given that they’re closely related to us but more closely related to chimps.  As such the research is consistent with the typical tale of human evolution, lending it further credence (as if it needed it).

Secondly it shows that bonobos did indeed split from “chimps” ~1 million years ago and that there was no interbreeding between the two groups after this split. This is consistent with the Congo River being the driving cause of their speciation since neither species is a strong swimmer and so could not have crossed the river to interbreed after it had split them.

They also found that around 6% of the bonobo genome had been subject to incomplete lineage sorting (shortened to ILS by lazy bloggers like me). ILS is when an allele of a gene doesn’t follow the population history of a species. It might split from its genetic common ancestor before the species splits from its common ancestor. Alternatively an allele present in the common ancestor of bonobos, “chimps” and humans might only go into the human and bonobo lines by chance (perhaps dying out in the chimp lineage). If you’re still not quite sure what ILS is, P. Z. Myers gives a better explanation of ILS (with pictures!).

Bonobo incomplete lineage sorting

The possible paths an allele might take with the percentage of the bonobo genome which took that path. B, C and H refer to bonobos, chimps and humans respectively.

Read the rest here

Finally Bonobos may get the recognition and study they deserve. I've disliked how their relationship to us has been ignored while the Chimps get all the credit and grant money. An article I read said that we share 1-1/2% of our DNA with Chimpanzees and 1-1/2% with Bonobos and that DNA isn't shared between the Chimps and Bonobos. Here's a podcast that covers the Bonobo story among other items.

Thank you! Will listen to the podcast!

Clever orangutan!

Jun. 20, 2012

funny science news experiments memes - Gorillas Have Their Own Brand of "Baby Talk."

While researching how captive gorillas communicate during play, study leader Eva Maria Luef noticed that animals older than three years had a special way of interacting with younger gorillas.
With infants, the older gorillas used touch and repeated gestures—such as grabbing or stroking the infant’s jaw—more frequently than they did when communicating with their peers.


The Mother Tongue


by Zoë Pollock

Benjamin Hale interviewed Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, an influential figure in the study of bonobos and language. She claims that her apes are better linguists because of how they were raised:

The cultural transmission that has happened here goes far beyond anything that has happened in other ape projects. This is because of the “for real” inclusion of apes into the human world and the human familial system. Language is a way of being and living, and their lives here are based on human values, morals, and family. We do not have “subjects,” we have “relatives.” They eat, sleep, and live with us. Even the Gardners, who prided themselves on their method of “sign immersion,” put Washoe in a cage at night. Teco sleeps with me. I am there as much for him as any mother is there for her child, and in many cases more. This is the critical variable; this method fosters the identification required with others for rapid self-learning of language. 

Hale's essay on the history of ape language research is paywalled at Harper's.

(Photo: An orphan bonobo with its surrogate mother. By Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Interesting claim.

I tried to find out if her two bonobos were using lexigrams to communicate with each other. Could not find anything. That would be an interesting development.

Check out this article

Thank you sir!


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