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Humans not 99% chimpanzee? Who would have guessed?

Well everyone, actually.

David Tyler discusses the recent startling admission that the claim that humans share 99% of our genes with chimpanzees has long been known to be wrong:

For over 30 years, the public have been led to believe that human and chimpanzee genetics differ by mere 1%. This ‘fact’ of science has been used on innumerable occasions to silence anyone who offered the thought that humans are special among the animal kingdom. “Today we take as a given that the two species are genetically 99% the same.” However, this “given” is about to be discarded. Apparently, it is now OK to openly acknowledge that those who are involved in this research have never been comfortable that the 1% figure was an accurate summary of the scientific information. But more recent studies have made it impossible to sustain the old orthodoxy. They have raised “the question of whether the 1% truism should be retired.”

The claim should actually never have been made, for reasons that Jonathan Marks addresses in What does it mean to be 98% chimpanzee?. So why was it made?

It is comments like these that can give sociologists of science a field day, for they reveal how social context influences what results are emphasised and what are overlooked. In this particular case, evolutionary biologists need to take full responsibility. It is good to see a start being made in setting the record straight. Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, writes: “DNA is beside the point. To concede so much to biology risks taking such privileges away from ourselves. [. . .] Chimps may resemble Homo sapiens in a tedious and literal sense, but in everything that makes us what we are H sapiens is unique indeed. Biology, in its proof of our physical similarity to other primates, underlines its own irrelevance.”

O come on, Jones! For many years now the similarity was used not to underline biology’s irrelevance but ours. That was not an accident either, it was the promotion of materialist propaganda in the guise of science. And the schtick is being retired now because no one was prepared to believe it. Want to know why? How about the rabbi’s reflections on sharing your genes with the chimp and the banana.

Tyler addresses the details in his most interesting post.

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19 Responses to Humans not 99% chimpanzee? Who would have guessed?

  1. 1

    The first link should read:

    http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.....n_dna_comp

  2. I guarantee that when using these facts in conversations the response will be, “1% or 6.4%, the point is we’re extremely close to chimps because we evolved from them/common ancestors.”

    Sigh.

  3. While there is a genome of a human, which is not really one human’s genome, and there is a genome of a chimp, it will take several genomes of each before we can appreciate the differences. And based on current technology and cost, that is in the future.

    We look around us and see incredible differences in each human we see. What parts of the human genome account for these differences and which are the same from person to person. The same information will be needed for chimps. This information will be necessary before anyone can assess how much is each species different or alike?

    What is the allele structure of each? That is how different are the alleles within each species as well as how different they are between each species. Or what makes each human different? How many differences are there in identical twins allele wise? (Is there anything written on this?) And if there is none, then what accounts for differences in behavior besides experience or physical changes to their bodies?

    We are a long way from answering the question of how closely related is each species let alone what makes individual members of a species what they are. We will need the latter before we can determine the former with any certainty.

  4. Common Design and convergence are two other alternatives that explain any similarities between any two populations.

    Unified physics theory explains animals’ running, flying and swimming:

    “Our finding that animal locomotion adheres to constructal theory tells us that — even though you couldn’t predict exactly what animals would look like if you started evolution over on earth, or it happened on another planet — with a given gravity and density of their tissues, the same basic patterns of their design would evolve again,” Marden said.

    And before anyone wants to say “scientifically” that humans and chimps share(d) a common ancestor, one has better be prepared to demonstrate that any mechanism can account for the physiological and anatomical differences.

    Otherwise all they have is faith. Faith in Mother Nature, Father Time, the blind watchmaker and those magical mystery mutations that still elude our ever watchful eye.

  5. One of the problems with any discussion of evolution is the mechanism for creating change. Behe, just said in his book that mutations don’t cut it. So that rules out gradualism. NS cannot work on nothing.

    What is left? There are many people like Alan McNeill that say there are other naturalistic mechanisms but the lack of evidence here is just as conspicuous as for gradualism.

    So what is left? A mysterious intelligence that every now and then modifies the genome of a species and sends it on its way? Or some other mechanism such as front loading? Or something else that is consistent with common descent?

    Whatever it is, it is consistent with common descent.

  6. Jerry:

    There are many people like Alan McNeill that say there are other naturalistic mechanisms but the lack of evidence here is just as conspicuous as for gradualism.

    I have tried to understand Alan McNeill’s perspective. The best I can tell, his view is that there are situations when natural selection plays a limited role. He points to the opening up of a new lake that theoretically happened sometime in pre-history. The result is that the lake contains bunches of new fish species, variants of common species. He conjectures that when the new territory opened up, any variant that “worked” could be successful because there was no competition in this uncharted territory. If I understand him correctly, his view, therefore, is just a twist on the same old story. I personally think that McNeill exaggerates the uniqueness of his perspective, that he offers nothing but a variant/circomstance of RM+NS.

  7. I certainly cannot speak for Allen MacNeill but I believe he says it is RV + NS/GD. The RV is just a short hand for random variation which may be caused by a myriad of processes including SNP’s. The NS/GD are just the two processes of population genetics that drive differences in the percentage of alleles in a population if they are present.

    Allen is fond of throwing a lot of information out that may not be relevant to the discussion but here is what is up on his website at the moment:

    “And what might this “engine” of change be? Exactly what Darwin said it was in the Origin of Species: the “laws of variation” of which naturalists of his time were almost “completely ignorant.” That is, given that some variations are heritable and that they can be passed from parents to offspring in the process of reproduction, then it is the processes that cause such variations that are the real “engine(s)” of evolution, including evolution by natural selection.”

    He goes on in this very interesting post to say

    “Clearly, the “engine(s)” of variation are prodigious, as it/they have been able over time to modify something as simple as a mycoplasm into an oak tree or a blue whale. Some supporters of “intelligent design” (ID) would dispute this statement, of course, claiming (without any empirical evidence) that “you can’t get here from there.” However, we clearly have gotten here from there; the real question is “how?” There are logically at least two possibilities:

    • The process(es) by which the “engine(s) of variation” have produced the necessary variation have operated endogenously by means of a prodigious (and undirected) “random variation generator,” the products of which have been sorted over time by natural selection (i.e. the Darwinian hypothesis), or

    • The process(es) by which the “engine(s) of variation” have produced the necessary variation have operated endogenously by means of a less prodigious “non-random variation generator,” the products of which have been sorted over time by natural selection (i.e. the ID hypothesis).

    Noticing that the only difference between these two possibilities is the amount of variation and its source immediately suggests a way of testing the two hypotheses: do the currently identified mechanisms of genetic and phenotypic variation produce enough variation to get from there to here, or not? If the answer is “yes,” then the ID hypothesis is unnecessary, and therefore irrelevent to science.

    So, the next obvious question is, what are the currently identified mechanisms of genetic and phenotypic variation, and do they provide enough variation to get here from there? The answer to this question will be posted soon -watch this space.”

    Interesting is that Behe’s book just eliminated option 1 of Allen possible mechanisms. But I bet he would not agree.

  8. From a software engineer’s perspective: I would expect any good designer to reuse effective design patterns. This is why arguments referencing similar molecular machines or genetic sequences across species do not favor the Darwinian view from my perspective. To the theist it merely shows God is a good designer.
    On the other hand, I would be very surprised to see completely novel ways of doing the exact same complex function within the same organism or similar organisms. For a creator-god this would either indicate poor design skill or showiness. But then of course God reserves the right to be showy! However, in software engineering this would not make it past a good code review. The developer would be told to go back and consolidate (re-factor) similar functions to reuse a common component instead of having to maintain two separate and unique components providing the same function.
    Now if I were an advocate of Darwinism, I would be looking for just such a case. Instead of pointing out the similarity of DNA between man and chimp, I would look for separately-located components with identical functionality and with radically different complex designs at the molecular level. Since natural selection is blind to engineering best-practices, one would expect to find random mutation producing such results. Conversely, as a proponent of design, I would look for cases where identical complex function employs the same design pattern across multiple species where their common ancestor (according to Darwinian view of the fossil record) did not possess the function. It seems entirely unlikely complex novel functionality would develop similarly in two separate evolutionary pathways as a result of mutation – i.e. a chance material mechanism. One would expect the designs to be different unless we make the unsupported assumption complex systems can only be configured in one way. That is certainly not the way it is in my world of engineering.

  9. Jerry:
    So what is left? A mysterious intelligence that every now and then modifies the genome of a species and sends it on its way? Or some other mechanism such as front loading? Or something else that is consistent with common descent?

    Whatever it is, it is consistent with common descent.

    But we don’t know what universal common descent would look like. That is because it has never been observed.

    The best we can do is to just say “X is consistent with UCD” without any way of verifying that assertion.

    IMHO the data is also consistent with convergence and Common Design.

    The nested hierarchy of living organisms was first used as evidence for Common Design.

    In order for that same data to be consistent with universal common descent something else would be required to explain the physiological and anatomical differences observed between allegedly closely related populations such as chimps and humans.

    To date that something else has remained elusive.

    BTW alien colonization is still a possibility. And even though that may just push things back a little (meaning how did those aliens arise), we have to work with what we have. And what we have is the living organisms on this planet. So we study them.

    And if the data gleaned from that demonstrates that universal common descent is a pipe-dream, then so be it. We can’t make something up just because we don’t like the data. Yet that is what has happened. Which is why I left biology for electronics. Electronics is all about reality…

  10. H’mm:

    If I may beg to add: 1% of 3*10^9 ~ 3*10^7, i.e 30 mn four-state elements, or 60 megabits of potential information.

    In a case of a programming language, a few bits can make all the difference, as the NASA computer programmer who left off a comma on the code for a rocket can testify. It went off-course on launch, and had to be destroyed — before it did a lot of damage.

    A comma has in it, maybe eight bits of information?

    But, in the context of that particular comma, eight bits was all the difference between a launchable rocket and one that had to be destroyed.

    So, what was that again about dismissing the significance of “1%” or “2%” or “6.4%” or whatever claimed percent difference in genetic code or protein sequences, in such a highly non-linear semantic system?

    [Not to mention 500 bits -- much less 60 millions -- has in it ~ 10^150 states, so there are immediately major Dembski-type upper probability bound problems on randomly accessing the human genome state starting from say a chimp-like initial state was it some 4 - 10 MYA or whatever is projected into the unobserved past?]

    GEM of TKI

  11. Joseph,

    You use the phrase “universal common descent.” I just use “common descent.” The evidence available only points to some lines as having common descent.

    What we are talking about is the presence of certain very odd nucleotide sequences across species and their origin. It is statistically improbable that they could have arisen independently. The most convincing to me are the deletion events. We had this discussion a short time ago and most of the posts were on retro viruses but there are many other pieces of information.

    There is no evidence that everything descended from a single celled cell organism as far as I know, There is obviously the use of DNA in all life and the use of similar proteins across organisms and similar organization systems within the genome of very disparate organisms but this does not necessarily indicate common descent from naturalistic causes.

    Since all these things appear across the various phyla, it means that these proteins and organization systems were in use prior to the Cambrian Explosion.

    The real mystery is the mechanism which as Allen MacNeill points out could be consistent with an intelligent designer if endogenous forces cannot produce the variation necessary. And Behe’s book did just that, it eliminated the possibility of endogenous forces causing the changes necessary.

    I doubt Allen MacNeill will agree with my assessment of Behe’s book because he will be toast in the biology community if he does.

  12. Jerry:
    You use the phrase “universal common descent.” I just use “common descent.” The evidence available only points to some lines as having common descent.

    I agree. I was just trying to differentiate between the two so no one got confused.

    Jerry:
    What we are talking about is the presence of certain very odd nucleotide sequences across species and their origin. It is statistically improbable that they could have arisen independently.

    I disagree. Any nucleotide has a 1 in 4 chance of being either an A, T, C or G. Therefore by chance alone we would expecty some similarities.

    The most convincing to me are the deletion events. We had this discussion a short time ago and most of the posts were on retro viruses but there are many other pieces of information.

    Common mechanism explains both- as does Common Design.

    Do you know what it takes to get the same retrovirus in the same location on both chromosomes?

  13. Joseph,

    You said:

    “I disagree. Any nucleotide has a 1 in 4 chance of being either an A, T, C or G. Therefore by chance alone we would expect some similarities.”

    We are not talking about single nucleotide similarities or differences but much longer sequences with the exact same deletions. The odds of this appearing in cows and goats or other similar type species and nowhere else are infinitely small.

    Common design only makes sense for these sequence if the sequences in question have function. We may have to wait a long while for that to be determined. Right now the sequences are buried in the same introns across species and smells of creation by a mutation event at some previous time. If you want to hold out hope of every sequence having function, then they could be common design but right now the betting is on some of the genome having some randomness to it.

    We are a long way from seeing an explanation of each sequence in the genome.

    I personally think there was design at several points and this design had a lot of flexibility built in it so that an organism could adapt to the environment and change based on the flexibility that was built in. Over time this process of adaptation will eliminate a lot of diversity in a particular species through natural selection and genetic drift. So an iguana on Galapagos and one in Ecuador will be similar but have slightly different genomes based on their environments and isolation from each other.

    On top of this, there is the ongoing mutation process that will modify parts of the genome and possibly eliminate parts of the diversity of the species and may occasionally add some diversity in the sense of adding a new allele. So we see both planned diversity and random destruction in a genome and it is probably hard to distinguish which is which in many instances.

    But this is just my speculation and could change in a second if I see contradictory evidence. But to me it fits the data bettter than anything. But what do I know.

  14. Bhearn,

    Excellent post. It is the type of logic that is usually lacking from these discussions. Off the top of my head I do not know which position it will support more or if there are other positions we are not considering.

    Your comments must have gotten held up for some reason.

  15. Jerry–
    Thanks. I’m new to the board and my comments were held up until approved by the moderator.

    As an engineer my understanding of life science is limited to reading books and internet sites/blogs. I was hoping someone out there might know first-hand whether or not any research was being done along the lines of my post.
    –Brian

  16. BHearn,

    As an engineer you might be interested in a video by MIT available for free on the internet.

    Go to http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/363/ and there is a video titled

    “The Implications of Synthetic Biology”

    It will not answer your question but it is about engineering design in biology. Here is a quote about it

    “There’s no mistaking Drew Endy’s profession: “I like to make things — that’s what I do.” From his engineer’s perspective, the slow and painful methods of bioengineering demand a solution. Endy hopes to refine the tools necessary to move the field forward. “We’re going from looking at the living world as only coming from nature, to a subset of the living world being produced by engineers who design and build hopefully useful living artifacts according to our specifications,” says Endy.”

  17. BHearn, I’m going to disagree with you on a couple of fronts. First, I don’t think its very productive to try and second guess God (or whatever you wish to call the designer). It’s just as inappropriate to think along these lines in support of design as it is when one is criticizing design.

    Second, I don’t think you appreciate just how unlike designed things cells are. For example, when you turn the lights off in a room, do you tear the switch out of the wall and throw it away? When you shut down your computer, do you toss out the keyboard (and I mean every time!)? After you take your Porsche for a spin, do you rip out and discard the ignition switch (and maybe some spark plugs to boot)? When you are sifting through bids for construction, say for a house, would you seriously consider one that proposes that doors and windows be disposable, and that they be replaced after every use, regardless of cost?

    If you answer yes to any of these questions, then congratulations, you are applying biochemical principles to engineering. If you answer no, then you have learned that, at its core, life is not like anything a rational engineer would design. And you have learned that the parallels that many here see between design and biology are cosmetic at best, and certainly do not extend to the fundamental strategies in play in living things.

  18. Jerry–
    Thanks for the link – I’ll have to check that out.

    Art2–
    I suppose anyone trying to form a theology around what they observe and the beliefs they form runs the risk of “second guessing” God. Surely however there ought to be good reason to not do so – otherwise let’s all go back to our respective professions and drop the whole matter ;-)

    Your comments on why life is not anything like what a rational engineer would design are interesting, yet merely hypothetical. Perhaps you could point me towards literature which might support your view.

    And, Dembski, Behe and others of which I have read seem to me to view, say the bacterial flagellum, as an engineered machine – so I don’t see how I’m out on a limb.

    I still think it would be interesting to structure research around analyzing the machines of life and cataloging them according to what makes sense from an engineering standpoint versus genetic mutation. Such a catalog (in my novice software engineering point of view) might show a pattern and prove fruitful. My original question was to find out if this has already been done.

  19. Hi BHearn,

    My comments about the irrationality of living things are far from hypothetical. If you know how to access Pubmed, then you should go there and do a literature search for the term “proteasome” (I didn’t misspell it). You’ll find that the cutting edge in terms of gene expression is all about breakdown, turnover, literally ripping the switch out of the wall and tossing it.

    Dig a bit more and you’ll find that the themes that underlie the recognition therein are all low information – zero CSI, if you would.

    (Wikipedia has an article on the proteasome, but it doesn’t do justice to the regulatory aspects of the process.)

    Enjoy!

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