Researchers were surprised to learn that the DNA sequences of human and chimpanzee genes are nearly identical, so what is responsible for the many differences between the two species? Here’s why we want to find out: Chimps get MUCH LESS cancer than we do.
For years, scientists believed the vast differences between humans and chimpanzees would be easily explained, but when their genomes were sequenced, researchers discovered that the insertion and deletion of large pieces of DNA near genes are highly variable between humans and chimpanzees and this may account for major differences between the two species.
Biologist John McDonald says that there are large genomic "gaps" in areas adjacent to genes that can affect the extent to which genes are “turned on” and “turned off.” He says, These elements were "once considered ‘junk DNA’ with little or no function. Now it appears that they may be one of the major reasons why we are so different from chimpanzees."
This analysis of the genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees was motivated by the previously published findings that the higher propensity for cancer in humans vs. chimpanzees may have been a by-product of selection for increased brain size in humans. In other words, we "pay" for our greater intelligence by succumbing more often to cancer.
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