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We're Not as Close as We Thought

According to new comparisons of human and chimpanzee DNA, we are not as close to our primate cousins as we thought. Scientists have told us that we share 98.5% of our genetic material with chimps, but now it appears that we share less than 95%.

Roy Britten of Caltech was suspicious about the 98.5% figure, even though he invented the technique that produced it. By measuring the temperature at which matching DNA of two species comes apart, you can figure out how different they are. But there are errors inherent in this method, and these produced the higher percentage. By correcting for these errors, Britten came up with the new, lower correlation of 95%.

But we still seem much different from chimps, and Britten thinks it will be some time before we know what it is about our genes that makes us so different. He thinks the real secrets could lie in regulatory regions of DNA that control whole networks of genes. He says, "It'll be a while before we understand them."

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