Archive: April, 2011
Chimps Have Evolved Too
As one astute commenter pointed out, chimps have been evolving too. We didn’t evolve from chimps, but from a common ancestor that evolved into chimps as well as humans. On the path leading to chimps, it appears the Y chromosome has shrunk and degenerated to almost nothing. It’s something I wrote about for my previous column, Carnal Knowledge.
For a time, a popular theory was bandied about that the Y chromosome in humans was also degenerating fast and would disappear in 125,000 years. Some even speculated that human males would go extinct. What would happen to females? It doesn’t much matter since that now looks to be wrong. When scientists sequenced the complete genome of the chimpanzee in 2005, they found that the human Y chromosome has stabilized while the chimp version continues to degenerate.
I got a great response to my first column. Thank you to everyone who read it and commented or asked a question. Here's one from Ted Siek, the same reader who posed the original question about the genetic similarity between humans and other primates.
"These DNA comparisons will go in circles for a long time. My information is that the size of the chimp genome is 11.5% higher than that of humans. Paleontology was simply making whole body form comparisons and speculating about evolutionary relationships, the same thing that geneticists are doing on a molecular scale. I do not believe in DNA reductionism. DNA without all the other components of the cell and its membranes would be nothing. I am not skeptical about science, but I am more than skeptical of the claims of universal common descent (the definition of evolution I have in mind). I do hope you take up the question of what scientific advances have been made on the basis of evolutionary theory or what contributions to human well-being evolutionary theory has actually made."
Is there a biologist in the house? If you want to take a stab at any part of this question, please post a comment or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Several readers have reported chimps with rather long and impressive tails lurking around the Planet-of-the-Apes column and blog. We noticed the error over the weekend and were assured all the tails had been removed. But it's come to our attention that a few of these creatures have escaped with tails intact.
If you see any chimps with tails, please report them. Chimpanzees are great apes and as such, do not have tails. We at Planet-of-the-Apes apologize for the confusion.
We're launching Planet of the Apes in conjunction with the Philadelphia Science Festival. Learn more here. The festival runs from April 15-30 and is aimed at connecting residents of the Philadelphia region to science, engineering and technology.
On Saturday the 16th, the dozens of local institutions will bring demonstrations, games and activities to a science carnival on the Ben Franklin Parkway. I just got a little sneak preview of the exhibit by the Monell Chemical Senses Center and found that I can't smell androstenone. But there's a 50/50 chance you can.
Ted Siek from Southampton, Bucks County recently wrote me with an extensive list of questions about evolution. Some expressed a skeptical tone about science. I liked them because they challenge scientists to explain how evolution works.
For example: "If our DNA is 80 to 96 percent similar to apes and monkeys," Siek wrote, "why are humans so vastly different with respect to 1) life span, 2) morphology [form], 3) age to maturity, 4) intrinsic beauty, 5) walking, 6) strength, 7) speech, 8) healing rates, 9) mental capacity, 10) cognitive capacity?"
That seemed particularly relevant for this new weekly column called "Planet of the Apes." Each week I plan to present some new research or explore a different angle on evolution.
Welcome to our brand new Planet of the Apes blog. Here we plan to keep up a lively discussion of all issues related to evolution.
We’ll be looking into the ways that evolution shapes our dietary needs, our health problems, and our behavior. We’ll discuss the evolution of altruism, cooperation, monogamy and promiscuity. We’ll look at ways the human race is still evolving. We'll also delve into the relationship between science and religion. Sometimes those issues will take is back into our 4 billion years of evolutionary history.
This is a joint effort between me (Faye) and artist Tony Auth, who will use illustration to advance our discussion topics.
What, exactly, did Darwin's theory say?
In his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin laid out an explanation for the diversity of life, the relationships between plant and animal groups, and the way living things seem so perfectly adapted to their environments. He based his idea of natural selection on a number of influences including the observations he made in South America and the Galapagos Islands on his famous voyage of the Beagle.
He also spent time thinking about domestic animals, especially dogs and the special pigeons that the English were fond of breeding.