It is one of the best-known pieces of scientific triviathat human DNA and chimpanzee DNA differ by a mere 1.6%. But are we then just chimps with a few genetic tweaks? Are our language and our technology just an extension of the grunts and ant-collecting sticks of chimps?
In Not a Chimp, Jeremy Taylor describes one of the great scientific quests of our timesthe effort to discover precisely what makes humans different from other primates, especially our closest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee. Drawing on state-of-the-art science, Taylor convincingly debunks the assertion that our two species are nearly identical genetically. He sketches the picture now emerging from cutting-edge research in genetics, animal behavior, and other fields to show that the so-called 1.6% difference is effectively much larger, leading to a profound divergence between the two species. Indeed, he explains that the evolution of the human genome has accelerated since the split of chimps and humans from a common ancestor more than six million years ago. In fact, at least 7% of human genesalmost one gene in tenhave accumulated changes within the last 50,000 years. Some of the genes that have changed orchestrate entire sets of other genes, and recent studies show that it is this complex interactionrather than the action of individual genesthat underlies speech processes, brain development, and a host of other mechanisms that make humans unique.
We humans are far different, genetically speaking, than chimps. More than that, we have been the architects of our own evolution through the same processes that have produced our farm animals and crop plants. We are the apes that domesticated themselves.
"Should be mandatory reading for journalists who often reinforce the general public's misconception that chimps are practically human."