The popular press recently announced the completed bonobo genome sequence. Bonobos are close relatives to chimpanzees. Unfortunately, much of the popular reporting misrepresented the data in the original Nature journal paper.1

The bonobo genome was immediately touted to be nearly identical to human in a number of popular articles attempting to describe the research. However, these reports failed to indicate that the high DNA sequence similarity was only observed in selected segments of the genome known to already be highly similar among humans and apes.

Geneticists rejected large portions of the genome to report high levels of DNA similarity. The selected areas of DNA that were compared are called “single copy,” meaning they contain higher levels of genes. Only the single copy areas which are similar between chimp, bonobo, and humans are compared—everything else was omitted. How can they honestly say that bonobo and human genomes are so similar, when only the similar portions of those genomes were compared, and the dissimilar portions were ignored?

Unfortunately, the popular press did not highlight the most significant results of the bonobo genome research. The gene sequences that were similar between humans and apes showed significant levels of a phenomenon called incomplete lineage sorting (ILS). This means that the gene sequences did not consistently match up with the predicted evolutionary tree.

In evolutionary dogma, bonobo is thought to be a more distant ancestor from humans than chimps. But of the bonobo genes that were found to be similar to human and chimp, 25 percent produced discordant evolutionary trees. Significant numbers of bonobo genes were more similar to human than chimp and vice versa….

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