Bonobos and chimps are relatives, but they also interbred in the past.
(Mirror Daily, United States) A recent discovery from scientists shows that bonobos and chimps share segments of DNA, which means that they were mixed in the past. In other words, the two ape species interbred. Specialists account for two such events throughout the millennia.
A team of biologists in Denmark was in charge of the new study. Specialist Christina Hvilsom was the leader of the group. She and her team members made the discovery while analyzing the genome of the two species. They examined DNA samples from ten bonobos and no less than seventy-five chimps.
The researchers performed lab tests in order to state differences between the animals based on the geographic area they came from. Their endeavor was meant to help them develop proper conservation strategies and curb illegal hunting. However, they came upon an interesting discovery, namely that one percent of the DNA of central chimps is the same as that of bonobos.
The team of specialists discovered this hybridization case the same way they did it with human ancestors. The results show that there were two periods when bonobos and chimps interbred. The first one occurred 1.5 million years ago, and the other happened two hundred thousand years ago. However, it is only the central and eastern chimpanzees the ones that share DNA fragments with bonobos. It seems like the western chimps are an exception and are not related to such an extent to bonobos.
Bonobos are scientifically called Pan paniscus, while chimpanzees are called P. troglodytes. Both their names and their similar appearances show that the two species are related. Moreover, bonobos used to be called pygmy chimpanzees. They also live in close areas, separated by the river Congo in Africa.
Nevertheless, researchers are intrigued how the two species got together in the first place. Since they are separated by the Congo River, and they are not fond of swimming, any type of interaction should have been null.
The discovery of their shared DNA is not the first evidence of species interbreeding. However, the specialists are excited about the finding. It is valuable information on the similarities between the two species and on their evolution.
Both bonobos and chimps are endangered by human activities. Massive deforestation leads to habitat loss, which is crucial for the animals’ well-being. Moreover, they are also hunted, which causes severe drops in their populations.
The new study accounting for the genetic link between bonobos and chimps was published in the journal Science.
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