The bonobo, the chimp's sexpot cousin, gets its genome mapped (+video)
Bonobos are apes that are as closely related to humans as the chimp. But unlike chimpanzees and humans, bonobos resolve most conflicts with sex.
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The primate split
The sequenced genomes will help researchers figure out how the primates become such distinct species. For instance, scientists have hypothesized that the formation of the Congo River separated the ancestors of chimpanzees and bonobos, leading to their separate species. The genome results support this idea in that there was no sign of any interbreeding.Skip to next paragraph
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The new genome map suggests that about 4.5 million years ago the common ancestor of all three primates (humans, chimps and bonobos) split off from the rest, and developed into humans.
Then about 2 million years ago, the remaining individuals were divided by the Congo River, and started evolving separately. They became separate species — chimpanzees and bonobos — about 1 million years ago.
"In this short time of a million years they developed these vastly different behaviors," Pruefer said. "Which is intriguing because it means these behavioral patterns can change quite rapidly."
The researchers haven't gotten a chance to look closely at the genes and genetic changes that separate these three hominids, but they are hopeful that careful analysis of these regions may help them understand why chimpanzees and bonobos are so similar, yet so different.
The study was published today, June 13, in the journal Nature.
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