AMEND CORNER: Of men and monkeys


Recently I came across a picture of a chimpanzee accompanied by the information that his DNA is nearly 99 percent the same as mine.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember the source from which I obtained this bit of knowledge, but I had heard it before, so it didn’t really surprise me. But I did a bit of research, and upon further inquiry, I found that the more precise percentage is 98.8 and even that number isn’t set in concrete.

I suppose there are those who are disturbed by this bit of scientific data. There are those among us who actually reject the whole idea that we are in any way related to chimpanzees. After all, anyone who has seen an ancient movie, “Bedtime for Bonzo,” has no doubt noticed that Bonzo and his co-star, a guy named Ronald Reagan, look absolutely nothing alike, and might well argue that they couldn’t possibly be that closely related.

Now I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a scientist, so I can’t speak with authority on the subject of DNA. I don’t think it had even been discovered back in 1960 when I was formally introduced to the topic of genes. But in the aforementioned research, I found out there is plenty of room for variation in the 1.2 percent of difference between our hairy cousins and us.

It seems that the DNA in each of our cells contains something like 3 billion paired bits of genetic information. Multiply that by 1.2 percent and you get something like 35 million genes. Moreover, even if one of your genes is identical to the same gene in the chimp at the zoo, his gene might not act the same way yours does. Not only that, but sometimes genes make mistakes, are damaged or forget to wake up at the right time.

Leaving the chimps aside, we humans are much more alike than you might expect. At one time, it was said that humans are 99.9 percent alike.

When I first heard that, I was a bit skeptical. There’s an awful lot of variety in our species, and it seems that such a small variation could not account for the difference between me and, say, LeBron James. If my DNA is that close to Luciano Pavarotti, why can’t I sing like he does?

Well, science may be answering that question. They are finding more difference among humans than they thought they would, and have even found that some people have more genes than others.

As I said, I’m not a scientist, and that’s no doubt why this essay hasn’t exactly been enlightening about genetic research. I’m not qualified to provide such enlightenment.

However, I am curious about the inner workings, not only of our own existence, but of the world in general. The knowledge science is gaining almost daily will continue to help us better understand ourselves and the world we live in, and maybe it will help us all to live in a better world.