The Family Tree
The following is from Genome by Matt Ridley:
Apart from the fusion of chromosome 2, visible differences between chimp and human chromosomes are few and tiny. In thirteen chromosomes no visible differences of any kind exist. If you select at random any 'paragraph' in the chimp genome and compare it with the comparable 'paragraph' in the human genome, you will find very few 'letters' are different: on average, less than two in every hundred. We are, to a ninety-eight per cent approximation, chimpanzees, and they are, with ninety-eight per cent confidence limits, human beings. If that does not dent your self-esteem, consider that chimpanzees are only ninety-seven per cent gorillas; and humans are also ninety-seven per cent gorillas. In other words we are more chimpanzee-like than gorillas are.
How can this be? The differences between me and a chimp are immense. It is hairier, it has a different shaped head, a different shaped body, different limbs, makes different noises. There is nothing about chimpanzees that looks ninety-eight per cent like me. Oh really? Compared with what? If you took two Plasticene models of a mouse and tried to turn one into a chimpanzee, the other into a human being, most of the changes you would make would be the same. If you took two Plasticene amoebae and turned one into a chimpanzee, the other into a human being, almost all the changes you would make would be the same. Both would need thirty-two teeth, five fingers, two eyes, four limbs and a liver. Both would need hair, dry skin, a spinal column and three little bones in the middle ear. From the perspective of an amoeba, or for that matter a fertilised egg, chimps and human beings are ninety-eight per cent the same. There is no bone in the chimpanzee body that I do not share. There is no known chemical in the chimpanzee brain that cannot be found in the human brain. There is no known part of the immune system, the digestive system, the vascular system, the lymph system or the nervous system that we have and chimpanzees do not, or vice versa.
There is not even a brain lobe in the chimpanzee brain that we do not share. In a last, desperate defence of his species against the theory of descent from the apes, the Victorian anatomist Sir Richard Owen once claimed that the hippocampus minor was a brain lobe unique to human brains, so it must be the seat of the soul and the proof of divine creation. He could not find the hippocampus minor in the freshly pickled brains of gorillas brought back from the Congo by the adventurer Paul du Chaillu. Thomas Henry Huxley furiously responded that the hippocampus minor was there in ape brains. 'No, it wasn't', said Owen. 'Was, too', said Huxley. Briefly, in 1861, the 'hippocampus question' was all the rage in Victorian London and found itself satirised in Punch and Charles Kingsley's novel The water babies. Huxley's point -- of which there are loud modern echoes -- was more than just anatomy: 'It is not I who seek to base Man's dignity upon his great toe, or insinuate that we are lost if an Ape has a hippocampus minor. On the contrary, I have done my best to sweep away this vanity.' Huxley, by the way, was right.
After all, it is less than 300,000 human generations since the common ancestor of both species lived in central Africa. If you held hands with your mother, and she held hands with hers, and she with hers, the line would stretch only from New York to Washington before you were holding hands with the 'missing link' -- the common ancestor with chimpanzees. Five million years is a long time, but evolution works not in years but in generations. Bacteria can pack in that many generations in just twenty-five years.
In this interview, Ridley discusses Genome.