A group of researchers from Korea and Japan has deciphered the Y chromosome of chimpanzees' genetic code, getting a step closer to solving the mysteries surrounding human evolution.
It is well known that we share more than 98 percent of our DNA and almost all of our genes with the chimpanzee. Now the researchers have decoded more than half of the Y chromosomes, or 12.7 million base pairs, of man's closest living relative.
"Because no genetic exchange occurs, the Y chromosome is important in explaining the evolution process," said Park Hong-seog, a senior researcher at the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB). Dr. Park's team at KRIBB and Japan's Riken Genomic Sciences Center discovered that chimps have 19 active genes in their Y chromosomes while humans have 20, with the extra one, called CD24L4, linked to immune-related and infectious diseases. That confirms why humans and chimpanzees both contract diseases like tuberculosis, measles and even food poisoning but only humans are vulnerable to AIDS, Alzheimer's and asthma.
The research also confirms the view that humans and chimpanzees started evolving differently about 5 to 6 million years ago and humans evolved much faster due to different mating habits: chimps are polygamous. The teams published their findings in January's first online edition of Nature Genetics.