‘Hippie Chimp’ Genome Sequenced
When the Congo River in central Africa formed, a group of apes was forever stranded on its southern banks. Two million years later, the descendants of these apes — the bonobos — have developed distinct social patterns. Unlike their chimpanzee relatives on the northern shore, they shun violent male dominance and instead forge bonds through food-sharing, play and casual sex.
Unlike common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pan paniscus) seem to use sex to resolve disputes.
CYRIL RUOSO/JH EDITORIAL/MINDEN PICTURES/GETTY
An 18-year-old female named Ulindi has now become the first bonobo (Pan paniscus) to have its genome sequenced. Scientists hope that the information gleaned will explain the stark behavioural differences between bonobos and common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and help to identify the genetic changes that set humans apart from other apes.
The genome is published today in Nature1. The bonobo is the last extant species of great ape to receive the sequencer’s attentions, following humans (Homo sapiens)2, 3, chimps4, orang-utans (Pongo pygmaeus and Pongo abelii)5 and gorillas (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei)6.
Humans, chimps and bonobos all share a common ancestor that lived about 6 million years ago in Africa, when the human lineage splintered off. By the time that our Homo erectus ancestors were roaming the African savannah 2 million to 1.5 million years ago, populations of the common ancestor of chimpanzees and bonobos had been separated by the Congo River.