News Stories

Monkey Business

We have experimented on animals to find cures for humans, but we've also brought human cures to animals. Does this make it an even exchange? Cleveland Zoo primate curator Chris Kuhar says, "Animals have long been used as models for human research. (Now we are) flipping that, using human research to help animals." The April 1st edition of "The Week" magazine reports that when scientists compared chimp DNA genome with ours (chimp and human DNA are 96% the same), they expected to find EXTRA human genes that make us unique. Instead they found that we are MISSING some of the genes that chimpanzees have.

One of these DNA sequences allowed our brains to grow bigger by turning off a gene that keeps the brain's size in check. Another prevents from grown spines on their penises (which male cats, for instance, have), which in chimps speeds the delivery of sperm. Researchers theorize that this helped our ancestors to prolong and enjoy the sex act and thus led to our becoming monogamous. The missing DNA may also explain why humans are more vulnerable than other animals to some diseases, such as cancer, HIV and Alzheimer's.

Meanwhile, Cleveland Zoo researcher Grace Fuller is trying to help the zoo's nocturnal primates adjust to the bright lights of zoo life, using some of the techniques that have been designed to aid human insomniacs. Lights are a problem in zoos where animals' days and nights are switched so they are up and moving when people come to see them. That kind of switch is also rough on other primates: humans. Fuller explains that "shift workers have higher rates of cancer, heart problems and reproductive problems than the rest of the population."

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