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Scientists have identified a clutch of subtle genetic changes that have shaped our minds and bodies into the unique form that sets humans apart from chimpanzees and the rest of the animal kingdom. The work by researchers in the US represents a landmark in a search that has occupied philosophers and scientists for millennia and one that goes to the heart of understanding what it means to be human. The findings offer up the humbling conclusion that the secret of human success may owe more to what we lost along the path of evolution, rather than anything we gained.
When the human genome was first deciphered more than a decade ago, some scientists expected to find extra genes that explained why humans had an intellectual edge over their closest living relatives and other species. But since diverging from chimpanzees around seven million years ago, it turns out that our human ancestors lost several hundred snippets of DNA, which together led to traits that are uniquely human, the researchers claim.
In ditching these chunks of DNA, our ancient ancestors lost facial whiskers and short, tactile spines on their penises. The latter development is thought to have paved the way for more intimate sex and monogamous relationships. The loss of other DNA may have been crucial in allowing humans to grow larger brains.
Intriguingly, hardly any of the lost DNA was from genes, which make the proteins that are the building blocks of life. Instead, the missing DNA came from areas of the genome that regulate where and when certain genes are active. "Like someone looking for their keys under a lamp post, the genes were the easiest place to look for differences between humans and chimpanzees, and in many respects those have been studied pretty well," said Philip Reno, a co-author on the study at Penn State University.
In the years since the human genome project was completed it has become clear that humans and chimps share around 96% of their DNA. Of the three billion pairs of "letters" that make up the human genetic code, genes account for less than 2%.
The loss of penile spines may have allowed our ancient ancestors to copulate for longer, a development thought to have nurtured monogamous couples and paved the way for more complex social structures.
When the scientists checked their genetic discoveries against the Neanderthal genome, they found the same chunks of DNA were missing, meaning the DNA was lost more than 800,000 years ago, which is when our human ancestors split from the Neanderthal lineage
Originally posted by anon72
reply to post by dalan.
Well, close. I can't say ALL but, in the article it indicated 510 missing items from us to them. That is one heck of a fluke of nature-IMO.
And, going on that, if we are a fluke of nature, then no, there isn't aliens etc and we are here in this big universe-as an error/mistake/fluke. That sucks.
It's hard for me to picture 1 million years. It's hard to picture 100 years. So many have come before us... It really is sobering. Perhaps hte knowledge that so many have come before us can bring some comfort when we approach the shadows of death. In our final moments we will know that where we're going many have gone before. Some of them were just like us. We're never alone.
Originally posted by anon72
Genetic comparison with chimps suggests that losing chunks of DNA – including one associated with penis spines and facial whiskers – played a crucial role in making us human