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GeorgeGee's avatar

Is the frequent claim that Chimpanzees have 98%+ of the same genes meaningful?

Asked by GeorgeGee (4920points) September 1st, 2010

If I gave you directions from Brooklyn to The George Washington Bridge or Brooklyn to San Francisco, they’d be 98% similar as well, adding only “cross the GW bridge and keep going.” That doesn’t mean that Manhattan and San Francisco are the same place or even close to each other. We could also say a Starfish and a human have 100% of the same variety of atoms in their bodies. That doesn’t mean that a starfish will soon be writing symphonies.

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14 Answers

marinelife's avatar

That’s why statistics are misleading, @GeorgeGee!

tedd's avatar

The vast majority of life on the planet earth has well over half of their genomes in common. The point is that ONE tiny gene different can drastically change what something is. It can be something as small as red hair or blond, as painful as whether or not you have downs syndrome, etc.

The point made by stating factually that we share 98% of our genome with chimps is that we are incredibly close (compared to other creatures on the planet) to them genetically, and for that matter we’re both evolved from the same ancestor back at some point.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

It explains some of the men I’ve dated ;)

Blackberry's avatar

Richard Dawkins explains this in full in his most recent book: The greatest show on earth, the evidence for evolution.

So if you actually care enough to have your question answered, I would recommend reading it. If I remember, I will read that section again and type it here for you later.

gasman's avatar

The figure varies depending on whether you count ‘junk’ DNA as part of the genome. But the basic fact is that the species closest to humans genetically is chimps, which fits nicely with the fact that they are our closest relative in line of descent..

Add to this the fact that when the human genome was finally sequenced we turned out to have far fewer (about 30 thousand, I think) genes than originally expected. Indeed there are many “primitive” creatures with far larger genomes than ours.

Katexyz's avatar

It depends on what you mean by meaningful. What it means is the chimpanzees are very similar to human beings, but we can observe this by just watching them and studying their behavior. Now your analogy is interesting, but doesn’t exactly apply. DNA is very different than directions or atoms (which by the way humans and star fish don’t have the 100% the same variety or quantity, but that’s irrelevant). DNA is the plan, the coding, for a living organism. It is what constantly writes and rewrites the physical and biological properties of every living thing on earth.

To bring your analogy into alignment with this we could say, hypothetically of course, that New York City and San Fransisco have the exact same city planning (as in they have buildings of the same size and shape in the same location) save for one building having a small section slightly larger in NYC. If you lay the city plans over each other you may not even notice the small section of the building, but that small area contains a local CIA head quarters which conducts large amounts of international espionage. This is essentially what the difference between human and chimpanzee DNA is. We are very similar creatures, closely related, and optimized for similar environments, but that small difference between the two of us has a powerful effect which redefines us (while both primates, chimps are apes and humans are not).

The number is used to suggest that we have a close common ancestor with chimpanzees, and according to the data this makes logical sense.

JLeslie's avatar

I really like the example of the two cities @Katexyz made.

For me, the realization that all living things are made from the same building blocks, ATCG is significant, because I feel connected to all living things. I find it interesting that we are so closely related to primates, and it reinforces my belief in evolution. I would guess scientifically it can also help us study things about ourselves, if a chimp has exactly the same genes for certain characteristics, but I am guessing, I am not a scientist.

Overall it is not really more significant to me personally that I am 98% related Chimps, and only 83% related to a cougar (I completely mass that up, I have no idea what percent we are related to a cougar) as I said above everything is related, that is what matters to me.

Katexyz's avatar

@JLeslie thanks!

I’m not sure about cougars, but I know that a banana is roughly 48% similar to human beings in terms of DNA. This can be interpreted either way. One way you look at it wow! A banana is so similar to a person, that’s incredible. Another way is that 52% of the genome is an incredibly large amount, when you consider the task, and you can state that this difference clearly accounts for the difference between a human and a banana. I like to look at it the way that you do, in that this shows me how much all living organisms are related. A banana is not even a member of the same taxinomic kingdom that we are, yet we still conserve 48% of the same basic information. It gives me a sense of interconnectedness with the various living things on earth.

If you want something really incredible I think you might want to look at the slides of fetal development in various different animal species. It isn’t until well within the process that you can even distinguish between a human, a pig, or a crocodile. It’s truly amazing.

/nerdmode

gasman's avatar

What all creatures share—bacteria, bananas, people, etc.—is basic biochemical metabolism and the enzymes that drive all those chemical reactions. It’s really not that surprising that our genes are so similar & makes a strong case that all of life on Earth descended from single-celled ancestors.

JLeslie's avatar

@Katexyz I bring that up about fetuses also. I would hope people don’t make it through high school without knowing that, but I guess there are people out there who think a 6 week fetus looks like a small full fledged human baby.

GeorgeGee's avatar

@Katexyz, I’m not sure what you’re thinking with respect to atoms “which by the way humans and star fish don’t have the 100% the same variety” but I believe you’ll find that indeed starfish and humans are composed of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and traces of metals and minerals. There’s no special “starfishium” or “humanium” element in them or us.
http://web2.airmail.net/uthman/elements_of_body.html

Katexyz's avatar

@GeorgeGee
Clearly I do not think that there are specific elements named after the creatures within which they exist. I’m not really sure what the purpose of your post was, it seems like you simply posted it trying to ridicule me, because you didn’t fully understand what I was saying. In living organisms there are 6 essential elements which are present in large amounts in all living things. Beyond that there is room for variation. As it seems you want to get very technical about this you must also consider isotopes to be a different variety of atom, as well as molecular compounds that may be exclusive to a starfish with respect to a human or vice versa. This is because it would be inaccurate to refer to a molecular compound as its separate atoms as it does not hold the same properties as either of those atoms and is, instead, it’s on unique substance.

Also remember in humans that a large number and variety of bacteria exist. These too are living things with their own unique chemical composition. The bacteria in and on a starfish would necessarily be different than that in and on a human.

cockswain's avatar

Of course it is meaningful. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s an indicator of who we are, where we’re from, and how relatively small changes in our DNA can create the difference between humans and other species. I thought the number was 99% similar, but that’s a small point. I’m pretty sure we’re 95% similar to mice, which is one reason they are useful in lab testing.

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