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What Have We Learned About Ourselves from Chimpanzees?

What can we learn about ourselves as humans from chimpanzees? According to the Genetic Literacy Project, not much. But let’s first take a look at what we have learned from years of studies.

Chimpanzees are humans closest relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing around 95 to 98 percent of the same DNA, Mother Nature Network reports. Some scientists have dedicated their life’s work to the study of these primates with interesting findings, such as the studies that have shown similarities between the behavior of these primates and toddlers between the ages of 12 to 24 months. The publication states that almost “90 percent of gestures such as jumping, hugging, stomping and throwing objects” are the same.

Like humans, chimpanzees also have complex hierarchies and can have conflicts within their social group. Mother Nature Network notes an example of this was observed by Jane Goodall in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park. She witnessed a group that had once been friendly towards each other, split into two subgroups. These subgroups became violent and fought over territory, resulting in multiple casualties.

Chimpanzees can also develop disorders that humans can (although without showing symptoms), namely brain characteristics that seem to resemble Alzheimer's disease. According to Nature, the findings from research conducted over decades, on several deceased chimpanzee brains, was published in the Neurobiology of Aging.

The above-mentioned points prove that there are many fascinating similarities between humans and chimpanzees, but Genetic Literacy Project, notes that humans have had been evolving independently for millions of years, and therefore “Most of what chimpanzees and humans do today is not directly comparable.” There are also many differences. The publication lists some of them, including the fact that chimpanzees do not have cash economies, governments or religious institutions, and that it is these differences between humans and chimpanzees that are of significance.

To sum up the answer as to why we cannot learn much about humans from chimpanzees, the publication has this to say: “It’s only by delving into humanity’s distinctive evolutionary history, since our split with the other ape lineages, that we are better able to develop a fuller understanding of the human niche, of what makes us specifically human.”

[Image via Shutterstock]

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