Are Chimps ‘More Evolved’ Than Humans?

17 04 2006


So suggests this article in New Scientist. By ‘more evolved,’ they mean that we are closer genetically to our common ancestor than chimps are. Out of 13,388 genes shared by humans, chimps, and rhesus macaques, 233 chimp genes have been changed by natural selection. Only 154 human genes have been changed.

(Macaques serve the role of neutral third party here, allowing scientists to better establish those genetic patterns that originated with our common ancestor. Or something like that. More here.)

If I’m interpreting this data correctly – and biologists, correct me if I’m not – that makes us 1.15% more evolutionarily advanced than our common ancestor, at least by one measure. Chimps, on the other hand, are 1.75% more advanced.

That 6/10 of one percent must account for a lot, including:

  • Our ability (and apparent willingness) to destroy the planet
  • Our organized systems of war
  • Our tolerance for the mass starvation of our own people
  • Our refusal to care for the sick within our own social grouping
  • Sanjay on American Idol

Feel free to add to this list, and to ponder this story’s implication for our future at your leisure.




One response

9 05 2007
Matthew Budny


I enjoyed your column in Huff post today- I believe that your analysis and insight is right on.

On to chimps…
Mutations in mammals occur at the same rate. Mutations that are passed along to the next generation are mutations that confer a selective advantage. Chimps possessing more ‘changed’ genes than humans may indicate that, while chimps and humans each moved into environments that differed from their common ancestor, chimps moved into an environment that differed more greatly than the environment into which humans entered.


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