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Initial Sequence of Chimp Genome Reported

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

On September 1, 2005, the initial sequence of the chimpanzee genome was reported in the science journal Nature. The news was almost completely overlooked—overshadowed by the devastation of hurricane Katrina, which made landfall three days earlier and led to the evacuation of New Orleans. The special “chimp” issue was inundated with evolutionary dogma, as a variety of scientists from various fields speculated on chimp behavior, their genes, and their relationship to humans. However, with the initial sequence of the chimp genome completed, scientists are still left with the nagging question: What makes humans different?

The main report of the chimp genome begins with the usual Darwinian propaganda:

More than a century ago Darwin and Huxley posited that humans share recent common ancestors with the African great apes. Modern molecular studies spectacularly confirmed this prediction and have refined the relationships, showing that the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and bonobo (Pan paniscus or pygmy chimpanzee) are our closest living evolutionary relatives (see “Initial Sequence...,” 2005, 437:69).

This shameless diatribe of Darwinian politics was further propagated in a supporting article published in National Geographic. Staff writer Stefan Lovgren opened his review noting:

Scientists have sequenced the genome of the chimpanzee and found that humans are 96 percent similar to the great apes species. “Darwin wasn’t just provocative in saying that we descend from the apes—he didn’t go far enough,” said Frans de Waal, a primate scientist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “We are apes in every way, from our long arms and tailless bodies to our habits and temperament” (2005, emp. added).

This type of tabloid journalism may help sell magazines, but it reflects poorly on the science underlying the actual study. And it definitely gives the reader a false sense of what was actually discovered.

By looking beyond the evolutionary facade, we find a different picture percolating to the surface regarding the relationship between humans and chimpanzees. Consider the following information that was presented in the various articles in this special issue: Scientists discovered 35 million single nucleotide substitutions and 5 million small insertions and deletions that were different between humans and chimps (see “The Chimpanzee Genome,” 2005). Wen-Hsiung Li and Matthew Saunders observed:

The question of what genetic changes make us human is far more complex. Although the two genomes are very similar, there are about 35 million nucleotide differences, 5 million indels and many chromosomal rearrangements. Most of these changes will have no significant biological effect, so identification of the genomic differences underlying such characteristics of “humanness” as large cranial capacity, bipedalism and advanced brain development remains a daunting task (2005, p. 51, emp. added).

Daunting indeed! Consider that all of these genetic differences supposedly arose from mutations. Yet many of the differences between humans and chimps involve multiple body systems. For instance, upright posture, language, large brain size, mathematical computation, communication, and long distance running often entail many different organs working together. Did the genetic mutations that separated humans from chimps occur in multiple systems simultaneously? In addition, scientists know mutations do not add genetic material. Where is the scientific evidence for “positive selection” in this evolutionary scenario and why has it only occurred in humans?

Chris Gunter and Ritu Dhand cautioned scientists to keep the results in context—especially regarding the oft-quoted “96%-similar gene” figure (or more often misquoted as 98%). They remarked: “At a conservative estimate we share about 88% of our genes with rodents and 60% with chickens. Applying a more liberal definition of similarity, up to 80% of the sea squirt’s genes are found in humans in some form. So it’s no surprise we are still asking, ‘What makes us human?’” (2005, p. 47).

In an accompanying article on chimp culture, Andrew Whiten highlighted yet more differences between chimps and humans. He noted:

Ape culture may be particularly complex among non-human animals, yet it clearly falls short of human culture. An influential contemporary view is that the key difference lies in the human capacity for cumulative culture, whereby the achievements of successive generations have built upon previous developments to create complex structures such as languages and technologies. Chimpanzees have accumulated many traditions, but each remains sufficiently simple that there is little scope for it to have developed significant complexity compared to its original form. Hints of cumulation exist, such as the refinement of using prop stones to stabilize stone anvils during nut-cracking, but these remain primitive and fleeting by human standards (2005, p. 52, emp. added).

“Primitive and fleeting” is an understatement. How many chimps have ever purposefully purchased an airline ticket online, boarded a jet, and flown to Lake Tahoe—whereupon they unpack a rod and reel and fish for brown trout? How many have put a story onto paper, submitted it for publication, and then visited a library to see their own handiwork? Yes, they can break nuts open, but they also routinely fling feces at one another. Is this vast difference with humans accounted for by some duplications or base substitutions in the genome? The answer is a resounding “NO”! Humans were created differently—in the image and likeness of Almighty God.

Harvard professor Marc Hauser wrote another article titled, “Our Chimpanzee Mind.” After quickly trying to justify the title, he went on to conclude: “At the genetic level, the publication of the chimpanzee genome will lead to increased capacity to pinpoint homologies. However, we are woefully ignorant about how genes build brains, and how the electrical activity of the brain builds thoughts and emotions” (2005, p. 62, emp. added). The chimpanzee genome will provide a great deal of information, but Hauser is correct in that it cannot tell us how those single nucleotides go about composing a brain or where/how memories are housed. The amount of information we have yet to discover should be a clear sign of how intricate and complex DNA really is. And yet, almost no attention was given to the enormous complexity of the chimp genome. One would think scientists would be in awe of this evidence of intelligent design. But instead they hastily put an evolutionary spin on the data.

A few other key observations should not be overlooked when one considers the information that was presented in this special issue. On pages 48-49, a colorful “brief history of chimps” is given. Interestingly, the first entry is 5-7 million years ago (“Last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees is believed to have walked on four legs”). The next entry is 1-2 million years ago (when the chimp allegedly diverged from bonobo). The third entry is 1641 (when Dutch anatomist Nicolaas Tulp described an ape). What happened to all the time in between the entries? In a span of 5-7 million years we only have two entries, neither of which is supported with actual scientific evidence. Both are speculation. The rest of the entries cover the last 350 years.

Additionally, one should not fail to notice that one of the many surprises that came to light in sequencing the chimp genome was that the human Y chromosome appears to have kept its store of genetic information better than the chimp. Evolutionists had predicted that the male Y chromosome was “endangered” and were predicting the demise of this small chromosome. They wrongly assumed it was shriveling up and mutating itself out of existence. However, the data from the chimp genome demonstrates that the human Y chromosome is actually in better shape that that of an ape!

Furthermore, it would seem to make sense that if humans and chimpanzees were genetically identical, then the manner by which they store DNA also would be similar. Yet it is not. DNA, the fundamental blueprint of life, is tightly packed into chromosomes. All cells that possess a nucleus contain a specific number of chromosomes. Common sense would necessitate that organisms which share a common ancestry would possess the same number of chromosomes. However, chromosome numbers in living organisms vary considerably. For example, certain animals, such as the mosquito (Culex pipiens) and nematode worm (Caenorhabditis elegans), have only 6, while a black mulberry (Morus nigra) plant has 308 (see Sinnott, et al., 1958). In addition, complexity does not appear to affect the chromosomal number. The radiolaria, a simple protozoon, has over 800, while humans possess 46. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, possess 48 chromosomes.

If scientists were hoping to find the “smoking gun” of what makes us human, they did not find it in the chimp genome. In looking at “big news” stories such as this one, it is always important to analyze what is truth versus what is speculation. Do we share a great deal of genetic information with chimpanzees? Definitely! But is there good reason? Of course. We share the same Earth, the same atmospheric conditions, many of the same internal organs, and we eat similar foods and need many of the same proteins to maintain homeostasis. But homology does not prove common ancestry! When we look around us at the created order, we quickly realize that God used the same basic design for much of His creation, and as a result we share the same genetic code. The primary difference is that a human is made in the image of God—with a soul that will transcend death.


“The Chimpanzee Genome” (2005), Nature, 437, [On-line], URL:

Gunter, Chris and Ritu Dhand (2005), “The Chimpanzee Genome,” Nature, 437:47, September 1.

Hauser, Marc (2005), “Our Chimpanzee Mind,” Nature, 437:60-63, September 1.

“Initial Sequence of the Chimpanzee Genome and Comparison with the Human Genome” (2005), Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, Nature, 437:68-87, September 1.

Li, Wen-Hsiung and Matthew A. Saunders (2005), “The Chimpanzee and Us,” Nature, 437:50-51, September 1.

Lovgren, Stefan (2005), “Chimps, Humans 96 Percent the Same, Gene Study Finds,” National Geographic, [On-line], URL: es.html.

Sinnott, Edmund W., L.C. Dunn, and Theodosius Dobzhansky (1958), Principles of Genetics (Columbus, OH: McGraw Hill), fifth edition.

Whiten, Andrew (2005), “The Second Inheritance System of Chimpanzees and Humans,” Nature, 437:52-55, September 1.

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