Back in 2012 the Bonobo genome was sequenced by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. Bonobos were the final great ape to be sequenced and it just so happens that bonobos and chimpanzees are our closest living relatives according to those sequences. Bonobos tend to be more peace loving and sexual while chimps tend to be more aggressive. Humans are considered great apes along with bonobos, chimps, gorillas, and orangutans. The Great Ape Sequencing has provided us with some unique insights into our relationship with the other great apes. Comparisons of the bonobo genome sequence to that of chimps and humans shows that the genome for humans only differs from bonobos and chimps by 1.3%. Of course, chimps and bonobos are more closely related and comparison of their two genomes only differs by a margin of 0.4%. Bonobos and chimps are considered to have a common ancestor and those ancestors were separated by the Congo River. Eventually, the river split was so complete that interbreeding between the two apes stopped and that is why we have these two ape species today. Further, some of the parts of the bonobo genome showed we humans are actually more closely related to the bonobos than we are to the chimpanzees but not by much.
Back in 2011 scientists are Emory University did some comparative studies and neurological studies on bonobos and chimps in order to try to solve the puzzle as to why chimps tend to have more aggressive behavior while bonobo behavior is more peace loving and sexual. What researchers discovered was that there are some neuroanatomical differences between the two apes although they both members of the same genus and these differences may explain their difference in behavior. But that was not the most surprising thing researchers at Emory University found.
During their research it was discovered that the data collected during the study involving bonobos and chimps MATCHES what we already know about the human brain and human behavior! Apparently, the neural circuitry that mediates anxiety, empathy, and the inhibition of aggression in humans is better developed in bonobos than it is in chimps. One might say that bonobos are more evolved than chimps and chimps are the more primitive of the two apes. This study is already providing us with new info adding to our basic understanding of how brain anatomy relates to social behavior not only in bonobos and chimps but in humans as well. They study is also providing us with new data and giving us some clues as to how brain dysfunction that underlies human social behavioral disorders such as psychopathy and autism develop. This is important because the more we understand how these disorders and others develop the greater chance we have of developing some sort of “cure” so to speak.
As I mentioned in the opening of this post bonobos and chimps are our closest cousins among the great apes as we are more closely related to them genetically. And the fact of the matter is that we are slightly more related to bonobos than chimps! We theorize that humans, bonobos, chimps and the other great apes share common ancestor about 6 mya.
In comparing the two apes we have found that chimps tend to be more aggressive and they use aggression to resolve conflicts. However, when it comes to bonobos we find that they tend to be more anxious, less aggressive, more socially tolerant, more playful, more sexual, and more empathetic. Rather than settling conflicts with aggression Bonobos use play and sex to diffuse tension and settle conflicts. We see these same social behaviors in humans. As you well know, some humans tend to choose aggression as the first method to settle conflict while other humans tend to choose more peaceful means to resolve conflicts and diffuse tensions.
Back in 2013 a study conducted by the Max Planck Institute discovered the Fountain of Youth…..well for Bonobos that is. Bonobos have been found to stay younger longer than chimps and humans because bonobos maintain elevated thyroid hormones well into adulthood whereas humans and chimps don’t. In humans and chimps our thyroid hormone levels tend to decrease after puberty. This delayed decline seen in Bonobos might be the reason these apes appear to have delayed development in their mental capacities and it might have consequences on their behaviors also. So just when you were about to go running off in search of the Fountain of Youth I’m here to tell ya you need look no further than your thyroid and the hormones it produces. Sorry………..
Apes are fascinating because they are so closely related to humans. They share many of the behaviors and characteristics we see in ourselves and when you look an ape in the eyes you quickly realize that there is “something there” just like when you look into the eyes of another human! What is that “something”? I think it is CONSCIOUSNESS! These apes might not be as consciously awake as we are but I assure you they come pretty close to being so. Afterall, our DNA only differs 1.3% from them and that is minute in genetic terms!