Friday, May 19, 2006

Did our ancestors shag chimps (ancestors)?


So, do you come here often? Can I buy you a drink? What's that? A banana daquori? Sure. How's about you and I go some where quieter, maybe grab some food?I know this great little place just off the High Street, they serve termites there, you like termites right? Of course you do, what with being a chimp and all. Get your... well, you don't wear a coat, but any way, you've pulled.

Above is a made up chat up line that probably never happened. I've started this post with it as a rubbish joke in reference to a paper recently published on which suggests that the divergence of the human and chimpanzee lines may not have been the clean break 7 million years ago as previously thought. The new research by Patterson et al, published online ahead of print, uses the principle of the molecular clock and reckons that the two lines may have diverged as recently as 5.3 million years ago, and further analysis indicates that the X chromosomes diverged later which implies the two lines successfully interbred.
The molecular clock is a sweet "trick" used by geneticists to work out when two populations diverged. This uses the principle that the genome, or parts of the genome, accumulates mutations at a fairly constant rate, and so the more differences between the genomes of the two populations (or species) the greater the time since divergence. I'm loathed to do this, but here is a wikipedia enrty on it, better to look at the papers listed here.

Currently, the authors of this research are very careful to point out that the chimp humping part of this research is at present only a hypothesis, though that hasn't stopped people, myself included, getting rather excited by it all. Any good biologist worth their salt (and a few rubbish wannabes like me) will be able to tell you that the accepted definition of species isn't all that good at describing the messy world of real life, and it's good to see we were no different back in the evolutionary day. Can we still interbreed with chimps? There is a likelihood that we can, since lions and tigers can produce offspring, and there has been a bottle nosed dolphin/false orca whale hybrid (a wholphin) that has successfully bred with another bottle nosed dolphin to produce a do-wholphin (I'm proper sorry about the source of the link, makes me doubt the story, anyone got a better one?). I say likelihood, but I have nothing to back this up, such as how related these species are to one another compared to humans vs chimpanzees, or when they diverged. Rubbish I know. Scrap the likelihood bit. That or go and try for yourself. A friend of a friend says there are places in Indonesia where you can fornicate with Orangs, so try and find a similar place but with chimps. You sick, sick man (or woman, don't want to sexist. It's been had enough to write this without using "man" to describe our species).

I am disappointed by the fact that the words Humanzee or Manpanzee feature not once in this paper. If I were the reviewer I'd insist on it.

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