How Similar Is Human DNA to Chimpanzee DNA?
Updated on March 18, 2024
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How Similar Is Human DNA to Chimpanzee DNA?

How Closely Related are Humans and Chimpanzees?

Nearly entirely similar if you’re comparing chimp and human DNA.

Jane Goodall, the prolific researcher who likely spent more time with chimps than any other human, claims the similarities are staggering.

According to The Jane Goodall Institute of Canada, chimps and humans share 99 percent of their DNA. They consider chimps our “closest cousins in the animal kingdom.” The institute claims chimps are closer to humans than gorillas despite the similarities in their looks.

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Source: 123rf

Chimpanzee and Human DNA Similarity

What are some of the most obvious similarities between chimps and humans?2

  • Both laugh when tickled
  • As youngsters, they play, learn socialization skills, and bond with their mothers
  • Both have similar senses of smell, sight, hearing, and touch
  • They use non-verbal communication and engage in affection with others
  • Both demonstrate a wide range of emotions, including fear, sadness, joy, and empathy

While human and chimpanzee genomes differ drastically, the overlap in behavior and growth is still astonishing and can lend more credibility to the idea that we are more closely related than we initially thought.

Despite clear differences in human and chimp genomes and the marked distinctions, a lot of the similar factors that do link chimpanzees to humans sometimes lead scientists and geneticists to further study their connection to our human lineage.

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Did Modern Humans Evolve from Chimpanzees?

No. It’s believed instead that modern humans and chimpanzees evolved from a common ape ancestor, possibly six to eight million years ago.1

From those same ancestors, humans and chimpanzees evolved differently. They are, however, considered one of our closest living relatives in human evolutionary history, given our common ancestor.

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Is Goodall the Final Word on the Science?

Of course, Jane Goodall is not the only scientist who asserts human and chimp DNA is 98 to 99 percent similar. Most scientists subscribe to this theory.

But not everyone agrees with Goodall. Some consider the 99 percent estimate debunkable. Although most of the scientific community accepts Goodall’s estimate, some believe the relationship between humans and chimps is drastically affected by gene expression, not just DNA.

Those who dispute the 99 percent estimate point to the obvious differences between humans and chimps. These are the things we can see with our eyes just by looking at chimps and humans and comparing the two.

How Are We Different From Chimpanzees?

Because of genetics and evolution, we are very different from chimpanzees despite sharing a common ancestor. Our human genome provides us with significant evolutionary differences.

Humans are about 38 percent taller and 80 percent heavier than chimps. Our lifespans are about 50 percent longer, and human brain development has given us 400 percent larger brains compared to our close relatives.

There are also differences when it comes to human abilities.

For example, chimps are unable to roll their eyes or tap their thumb and fingertips due to their thumbs’ location on their hands and the fact that they don’t have the same muscle dexterity as humans. They also have knees that point outward instead of forward. And while chimps are amazingly intelligent creatures, they aren’t able to accomplish the same intellectual feats as most humans.

Humans and chimps have different bone structures, brain types, and other major physiological parts. Our genetic differences are still very clear and have been observed for decades.

The human genome is markedly different from the chimpanzee genome in many ways. For example, a human genome and DNA sequence have also led to the creation of human civilization and history-keeping.

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What Does All of This Mean?

Some claim it proves the 99 percent is overestimated, and the actual genetic similarity is closer to 85 to 90 percent. They claim that although this still seems high, it equates to more than 360 million genetic differences.

For starters, chimp and human DNA are two different sizes despite our common ancestor.

Humans have 46 chromosomes and chimps have 48. Again, on the surface, this seems a lot closer than it actually is. In reality, it’s 3,096,649,726 base pairs in the human genome versus 3,309,577,922 base pairs in the chimpanzee genome.

Other Differences Between Chimpanzees and Humans

According to scientists, it’s also important to consider how human and chimpanzee bodies just don’t “go together.”

Humans don’t interbreed with chimps, nor do our body parts seem to be transferable. The few chimp-to-human organ transplants that have been attempted mostly failed within a few weeks. One chimp liver recipient lived for nine months after the procedure.

Those who oppose the 99 percent number believe it’s also important to acknowledge that chimpanzees aren’t the only other living things that share genetic similarities with humans. As a matter of fact, we’re quite similar to things that are nothing like us at all, like bananas.

Again, there are similarities. Like all living things, we need oxygen, water, and a food source. But it doesn’t take a highly educated scientist to figure out that humans and bananas are generally not the same things.

And since organ transplants between humans and genetically less similar animals have been successful, the organ transplant argument disproving similarity loses a great deal of its weight despite chimps’ and humans’ common ancestor.3

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Is the Difference in Junk DNA and Gene Expression?

Scientists acknowledge that while our DNA is similar to chimps, there are clearly differences between the two species. This could be due to gene expression and how junk DNA affects it.4

Dr. Gilad’s work can help geneticists understand the uniqueness of humans and how exploring the various similarities and differences can go a long way in finding cures for diseases and improving human health.6

A study conducted by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology further demonstrated the role of gene expression and how so-called junk DNA plays a role.5

Long before DNA was an issue, scientists assumed that chimps and humans had different genetic makeups and were surprised to learn that the DNA sequences are extremely similar.

The GIT scientists started from here, on the basis that the 99 percent DNA comparison is accurate, and asked, “If not DNA differences, what is responsible for the many morphological and behavioral differences between chimps and humans?”

They concluded that it’s the insertion and deletion of large pieces of DNA close to the genes that are highly variable between chimps and humans. They believe it’s this issue that makes humans and chimps appear to have a lot less in common than they do biologically.

Researchers confirmed that the DNA sequences are “nearly identical,” but there are gaps in the areas near these genes that affect the activation and expression of the genes.

So Are Humans and Chimps Genetically Similar?

The most up-to-date science confirms what Dr. Goodall realized decades ago: yes, but that doesn’t make them the same, and there’s still so much more to discover about the genetics of both species.

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Updated on March 18, 2024
Kelly Brown
Kelly Brown
Content Contributor
Kelly has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including legal, medical, marketing, and travel. Her goal is to share important information that people can use to make decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. From choosing the best treatment programs to improving dental and vision health to finding the best method for helping anyone who is struggling with health issues, she hopes to share what she learns through informative content.