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baby chimpanzee ape at the zoo.

If DNA Doesn’t Make Humans Different From Chimps, What Does?

How do we get to Beethoven’s Fifth and quantum theory?

Some neuroscientists think they have an idea worth pursuing:

With only 1% difference, the human and chimpanzee protein-coding genomes are remarkably similar. Understanding the biological features that make us human is part of a fascinating and intensely debated line of research. Researchers at the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics and the University of Lausanne have developed a new approach to pinpoint, for the first time, adaptive human-specific changes in the way genes are regulated in the brain…

To explain what sets human apart from their ape relatives, researchers have long hypothesized that it is not so much the DNA sequence, but rather the regulation of the genes (i.e. when, where and how strongly the gene is expressed), that plays the key role. However, precisely pinpointing the regulatory elements which act as ‘gene dimmers’ and are positively selected is a challenging task that has thus far defeated researchers.

Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, “The DNA Regions in Our Brain That Contribute to Make Us Human” at Neuroscience News

Okay. But, assuming we solve these problems, how do we get from Ooga!! Ooga!! to Beethoven’s Fifth or quantum theory?

Jialin Liu, Postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study explains: “We show for the first time that the human brain has experienced a particularly high level of positive selection, as compared to the stomach or heart for instance. This is exciting, because we now have a way to identify genomic regions that might have contributed to the evolution of our cognitive abilities!”

Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, “The DNA Regions in Our Brain That Contribute to Make Us Human” at Neuroscience News

But wait! What was driving the positive selection? If your coins keep coming up heads instead of tails, millions of years after millions of years, something is happening that isn’t mere chance.

There is a huge information gap here. Maybe we need more information theory and less evolution theory to understand this. Here’s the paywalled paper.

Also: Beethoven’s Fifth:


You may also enjoy: But, in the end, did the chimpanzee really talk? A recent article in the Smithsonian Magazine sheds light on the motivations behind the need to see bonobos as something like an oppressed people, rather than apes in need of protection.


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If DNA Doesn’t Make Humans Different From Chimps, What Does?