Thursday, May 18, 2006

Well, I'll be a monkey's . . .

OK: I'll leave the "Bubbles" jokes to breakfast radio morning crews and get right to it: we already know that we share 99.4% of our DNA with chimpanzees, but it now appears that the relationship between our two species might be far more intimate than we thought. Science writer Carl Zimmer explains:

The Broad Institute scientists lined up millions of bases of DNA in humans and chimps and measured their differences. Humans and chimpanzees both inherited each segment of DNA from a common ancestor. Over time, the copies of that ancestral segment picked up mutations. The differences between them can offer clues to how long they've been evolving along separate paths. It turns out that the ancestors for some of those segments are much older than others. The only way to make sense of these results, according to the scientists, is to conclude that hominids and the ancestors of chimpanzees were interbreeding--to some extent at least--for four million years.
Talk about food for thought on a Thursday! Zimmer's post canvasses the implications this news might have on current debates regarding the ethics of "chimeric experimentation" (that's experimentation in human-animal hybrids to laypersons like you and me). That it will doubtless ruffle the feathers of not a few creationists (of whatever shade) almost goes without saying--even if it isn't really far removed from the notion that our species share a common ancestor. Once again, we are nudged just a little bit farther away from being the centre of the universe.

I can see why science frightens some people.

See also: Nature and New Scientist.