The Race is On: Chimps Are Out-Evolving Humans
Portland, May 12, 2009 -- The results are in: chimps are evolving faster than human beings. This startling discovery was made by a group of biologists and evolutionary scientists at the Biped Research Institute of Portland, Oregon following a three-year study into the genetic and evolutionary patterns of multiple generations of both species.
Research was conducted by analysing the genetic patterns in a rare, 22-generation direct line of chimpanzee descendants, then comparing these records with those of a similar multiple-generation selection of humans. According to Biped Research, chimpanzees, or Pan troglodytes, are evolving approximately 30% faster than human beings and will, if the rate continues, eventually outstrip homo sapiens in many of the characteristics that define "humanness".
"We're not particularly surprised that there is a disparity in evolutionary efficiency," said Dr. Truman Kettle, President of BRI. "However, that the disparity is so dramatic took us all a bit aback. Should trends continue, we could expect to find talking, reasoning, fully bipedal chimps to begin to appear within 15-20 generations. Quite possibly faster."
Biped Research achieved the unprecedented findings by painstakingly DNA-mapping a 22-generation line of chimpanzees, then comparing the rate of "positive", or species-strengthening, mutations as they appeared and were passed onward with similar trends in the human samples.
BRI used a rare collection of preserved chimpanzee remains provided by the small and relatively unknown Macacos Em Uns Frascos (Chimpanzee Museum of Zoology) of Lisbon, Portugal for the ape component of the study. Human cell samples were provided by the Dalend Huis van Usher Institute in Rotterdam, a private museum dedicated to preserving the remains of all members of the Usher family. The museum, which has been in operation since 1698, was able to provide samples from over 14 direct-line generations of Ushers.
In the chimpanzee lines, BRI found numerous instances of species-strengthening mutations that were passed down and reproduced in subsequent generations. These included DNA-chain shifts that are associated with increased fine-motor skills, improved verbal communications abilities, increases in brain volume and activity, improved memory, greater lower body strength, and variations in hip structure that would tend toward a more upright posture. Chimpanzees still use their forearms for support during locomotion, but apparently less so than they did 200 years ago.
"We're seeing a clear line in the chimpanzee evolutionary pattern that would indicate an accelerating trend toward humanness," said Dr. Kettle. "Basic human traits, such as speech and bipedal locomotion, are clearly indicated and will likely make their appearance, barring natural intervention, in chimpanzee gene stocks as soon as a few decades from now or within the next century or two."
"On the other hand, many of the mutations we found in the Usher gene pool would tend to indicate a trend in the other direction, if you will. Humans, at least in western, industrialized society, are actually devolving in some respects. That is, negative or species-weakening mutations are not being cancelled out by the traditional survival pressures that applied prior to the arrival of advanced medical care. This trend is particularly apparent in the final three to four generations we studied."
Dr. Kettle also indicated that the chimpanzees, while in some respects evolving toward humanness, are simultaneously exploring a divergent genetic path that would tend to make them more resistant to today's geopolitical, economic, social and environmental pressures.
"They're automatically, thanks to natural selection, developing high-grade resistance to air pollution, for example," said Dr. Kettle. "We've also found chimpanzees articulating, on a genetic basis, new and advanced capacities for social cooperation and non-violence. One could say they've already surpassed human beings on those fronts."
While it is difficult to make categorical conclusions based on the relatively small organic sample the BRI researchers had at their disposal, Dr. Kettle explained that the statistical likelihood that the indicators inferred from the study are correct is greater than 99.5%.
"Obviously we'd like to perform this study on a sample that included thousands of cases from multiple and disparate family groups, on both the ape and the human side, but that's simply not possible," said Dr. Kettle. "However, if current trends continue, we at Biped Research wouldn't be surprised if you were to find a chimp sitting in the White House before the next century is out."
By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor
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