Vol.3, # 6
February 18, 2006

Q: Can chimpanzee/human hybrids be created? - Layperson

A:  It is very possible(rumored to have already been done) , but not likely, naturally, or in the lab.
Scientists have pieced together the genetic recipe of the chimpanzee, marking a milestone in the centuries-old quest to discover what sets humans apart from other animals.
The genetic blueprint of the chimpanzee, humanity’s closest cousin, has been mapped in its entirety by scientists, narrowing the search for the genes that make us human.
Differences in the sequence of four chemical "letters" that spell out the genetic codes, or genomes, of chimp (Pan troglodytes) and man (Homo sapiens) could account for the very human abilities to write novels or fly to the Mars.

"As our closest relatives, they (chimpanzees) tell us special things about what it means to be a primate and, ultimately, what it means to be a human at the DNA level," Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, which funded the studies, told a news conference.

 The comparisons of the two genomes, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature by 67 researchers in the Chimpanzee Sequencing and Analysis Consortium, provide clear confirmation of the common and recent evolutionary origin of humans and chimpanzees, as first predicted by Charles Darwin in 1871.

Dr. Robert Waterston, one of the leaders of the international research team, from the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues sequenced the DNA of a chimpanzee named Clint, who died last year of heart failure at the relatively young age for a chimp of 24, but two colonies of his cells have been preserved for future study.

They compared it to the human genome sequence and did a letter-by-letter comparison of the DNA base pairs -- the A, C, T and G nucleotides that make up both the human and chimp genetic codes.

Out of 3 billion base pairs that make up both the human and the chimpanzee genomes, only 40 million differ between human and chimp, they found.

"Within those 40 million differences are clearly the genetic bases of what makes us human." said Dr. Waterston.

Genes usually code for proteins, the molecules that build and operate a body, and many key differences are expected to be found in genetic code that controls where proteins are made, how and in what quantities.

The chimpanzee is only the fourth mammal to have its genome sequence completed, after humans, rats and mice, though a draft is available for the dog. Of these species, humans and chimps are by far the most similar. The differences between them are ten times fewer than those between mice and rats, and sixty times fewer than those between humans and mice.

But, added Collins, the study did not address philosophical or religious questions.

"It may very well not tell us about other aspects of humanity, such as how do we tell right and wrong," Collins said. Enditem

An international team of 67 scientists, led by a top genome researcher in Seattle, may have moved us a few steps closer toward figuring out precisely what in the genetic code makes us human -- or, at least, not chimpanzees.

"By comparing the human and chimp genomes, we can see the process of evolution clearly in the changes (in DNA) since we diverged from our common ancestor," said Robert Waterston, director of genome sciences at the University of Washington and lead author of a report on the project in today's edition of the journal Nature.

Humans and chimps each have some 3 billion base units of DNA in their genomes, differing by only 1.2 percent when compared in this way.

"We're not that different," Waterston said.

Below are some pictures of an unusual specimen of an chimpanzee named Oliver, whom for years was thought to be a possible chimp/human hybrid.Oliver was a sideshow star, but he wasn't like the other chimps in the traveling circus circuit. He was said to have come from somewhere in the Congo, although that claim is somewhat shrouded in mystery at this late date.

Oliver was one of the most closely studied chimpanzees in history, in large part because of his odd appearance and behavior. His behavior was so humanlike, in fact, that it was suspected by some that he might actually be a human-chimp hybrid – the result of some secret genetic experiment.

Oliver was born in the African Congo where he was captured in the early 1970s and sold with a dozen other chimps to Frank and Janet Burger, animal trainers from South Africa. Immediately, they recognized that Oliver was quite different than the other chimps they worked with. He looked different, for one thing. Although young, he lacked hair on his chest and head. His ears and jawline were shaped somewhat differently than a normal chimp's. Most astonishingly, Oliver always walked upright with a decidedly human gait. He learned to use a toilet, liked to watch TV with the Burgers, drink coffee and beer with them, and even took on simple household chores like feeding the dog.

Oliver's remarkable intelligence brought him a modicum of fame, touring the world throughout the '70s and performing before an estimated 26 million people. He even made appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

Oliver preferred the company of humans to that of other chimps. The feeling on the part of other chimps was mutual; they tended to avoid him. Oliver's comfort with humans even crossed the boundaries of social propriety when he made sexual advances toward Janet Burger and other human females.

It was shortly after these incidents that Oliver was sold to a New York attorney and later to West Coast animal trainers who promoted him as "The Missing Link" and showcased him in a traveling act of trained chimps.

Was Oliver a human-chimp hybrid, a kind of mutant chimp or one of some new species? In the sensationalized publicity that surrounded Oliver, it was reported that he had 47 chromosomes – one less than an ordinary chimpanzee and one more than a human being. These reports were refuted in 1997, however, when genetic testing revealed that he had 48 chromosomes, just like any other chimp.

Swett asked University of Chicago geneticist Dr. David Ledbetter to examine Oliver's chromosomes, which he did in late 1996. Studies revealed that Oliver had 48, not 47, chromosomes, thus disproving the earlier claim and confirming that he had a normal chromosome count for a chimpanzee. Dr. John from Texas's Trinity University and cytogeneticist Dr. Charleen Moore from The University of Texas's Health Science Center conducted more extensive studies with Oliver, results of which were published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 1998.

Standard chromosomal studies fully supported Ledbetter's findings that Oliver had the diploid chromosome count expected for chimpanzees. His chromosomes possessed banding patterns typical for the common chimpanzee yet different from those of humans and bonobos, thereby excluding any possibility of Oliver being a hybrid. Oliver's mitochondrial DNA sequence corresponded very closely with that of the Central African subspecies of common chimpanzee; the closest correspondence of all was with a chimp specimen from Gabon in Central-West Africa. The study showed that Oliver's cranial morphology, ear shape, freckles and baldness were individual variations within the range of variability exhibited by the common chimpanzee.

The possiblility that Oliver is an example of a rare bipedal sub-species of the common chimpanzee lineage is still possible. The radical differences in his behavior remain notable for their suggestion of his being to some extent culturally and physically more humanlike than most known chimpanzees. The bipedalism trait remains obscure in human DNA studies and may be real though undetected in Ledbetter's findings.

Oliver also looked different from other chimps; he less hair, a smaller chin, a smaller and rounder cranium, and pointed ears (which neither chimps nor humans normally display). Except for the latter trait, these characteristics gave him a remarkably human appearance relative to normal chimps. He also reportedly had an unusual scent, compatible neither with chimps nor humans.

Among the non-Bestiality related explanations for Oliver's freakish characteristics were mutation, spontaneous evolution and hybridization with another form of ape (such as the also-human-like bonobo, which is conveniently a sex-crazed lunatic).

In keeping with human nature, this potential ambassador to a new species was not welcomed and honored, nor was he the subject of attempts to communicate and learn. Instead, he was bounced around from "owner" to "owner," displayed as a sideshow freak, and eventually sold to a laboratory of the "pouring-pepper-juice-in-cute-little-bunny-eyes" sort. 

Miller sold him to Ralph Helfer, partner in a small Buena Park, CA, theme park called Enchanted Village or Japanese Village. When the park closed down later that year, Helfer continued exhibiting Oliver in a new venture, Gentle Jungle, which changed locations a few times before finally closing in 1982. The LA Times did an extensive article about Oliver as a possible missing link or new sub-species of chimp. Oliver was transferred to the Wild Animal Training Center at Riverside, California, owned by Ken Decroo, but he was allegedly sold by Decroo in 1985. The last trainer to own Oliver was Bill Rivers. Rivers reported problems with Oliver not getting along with other chimps.

The Buckshire Corporation, a Pennsylvanian laboratory leasing out animals for scientific and cosmetic testing, purchased Oliver in 1989. His entrance examination revealed some previous rough handling. He was never used in experiments, but for the next seven years his home was a 7 x 5 foot (2.1 x 1.5 meter) cage, whose restricted size resulted in muscle atrophy to the point that Oliver's limbs trembled. In 1996, Sharon Hursh, president of the Buckshire Corporation, inquired whether Primarily Primates could start a retirement effort for Buckshire's colony of 12 chimpanzees.

Older, blind, and arthritic, Oliver happily ended up at a spacious, open-air cage at Primarily Primates. The sanctuary's director, Wally Swett, was determined to solve the mystery of his celebrity guest's taxonomic identity once and for all.

One has to seriously question the ethics of a species that is willing to imprison and torture another species with 99% of the same genes for the sake of mass-producing less-clumpy mascara, but it's even more baffling how a potentially half-human creature could be banished to this fate. . . 

Another interesting story is of a creature captured and named Zana.

In 1850, a group of hunters were prowling the Ochamchir region of Georgia in Russia when they were astonished by the sight of a young female wild woman. She looked somewhat human, but also had many ape-like features. With great difficulty, they captured the woman and brought her to civilization for study where they named her Zana.

Although she was clearly not an ape, Zana didn't look quite human either. Unlike other feral captures, which were obviously human in appearance, she had thick arms, legs and fingers, a massive bosom and was covered with dark hair. More primitive still was her behavior, which was so vicious that she had to be kept caged for the first few years of her captivity.

The details of her life in the Russian village are sketchy, but apparently Zana's behavior mellowed after a few years and she was taught to perform such domestic tasks as grinding corn. It was said that she had a remarkable tolerance for the cold and disliked being in a heated room.

Although Zana never learned to communicate through human speech, she obviously had developed social abilities since she gave birth to several children sired by various human fathers. How these pregnancies came about exactly is unclear, but it is known that Zana accidentally killed at least one of her children by trying to bathe it in a cold river. Apparently, she thought her offspring had the same tolerance to cold as she did.

Several of her other children were taken from her, for their protection, by families in the village who raised them as their own. Unlike their mother, the children did learn to speak and they eventually had children of their own. Zana died in 1890, and the youngest of her children survived until 1954. Her grandchildren, according to researchers, had dark skin, Negroid features and were extraordinarily strong.

What was Zana? Professor Boris Porchnev of the Moscow Academy of Sciences believed Zana might have been an Alma. An Alma is an elusive creature of Central Asia that is somewhat akin to our own Sasquatch, but with an important difference. Almas are said to be much more humanlike than the common descriptions of Sasquatch. And Porchnev theorized that they might be a surviving clan of Neanderthals!

It has been recently speculated that Neanderthals could and did breed with homo sapiens in the distant past. And, just perhaps, not so long ago. Zana certainly fits the description.


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