Evolution in the News - September 2003
by Do-While Jones

More Monkey Business

That 98% nonsense has now become 99%, if you believe some reports.

Shortly after we published our January, 2003, 98% Chimp essay, there were more claims that there is practically no difference between humans and chimpanzees. Since we had just dealt with the issue, we let the following article pass without comment.

Humanity’s pedestal lowered again?

People and chimpanzees share an even closer genetic kinship than is usually assumed, according to a new study. So close is the connection that living chimp species belong to the genus Homo, just as people do, contend Morris Goodman of Wayne State University in Detroit and his colleagues. … People and chimps exhibited the closest genetic relationship, sharing 99.4 percent of the sequences at functional mutation sites. 1

In our 98% Chimp essay we quoted the actual numbers in a January, 2002, report in the peer-reviewed journal, Science. Those researchers picked a small portion (less than 1%) of the chimp genome that seemed to be very similar to the human genome. They could only get 87% of the sequences to match closely enough for them to determine which sequences corresponded. Only 67.7% of the corresponding sequences were at least 90% correlated. But, when you look at that 67.7% of the 87%, you see that 98.77% of them have PHRED quality values >= 30.

Morris Goodman has found a 99.4% correlation at “functional mutation sites.” But what about all the “non-functional” mutation sites. He only compared sites that he thinks are important. Unfortunately, his study is being repeated again in the popular press.

Chimp Relatives

The most sophisticated analysis of DNA ever undertaken has concluded that humans and chimpanzees are more closely related than previously believed. Researchers at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit found a 99.4 percent genetic match. On the basis of this finding, they say, chimps should reside on the same branch of the evolutionary tree as humans. 2

Should you believe a study done by someone who claims to be 99.4% chimpanzee?

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1 Science News, May 31, 2003, Vol. 163, page 349 (Ev)
2 Popular Mechanics, October 2003, page 22 (Ev-)