Scientists have decoded the bonobo genome, the biochemical instructions in the ape’s cells that guide the building and maintenance of the animal’s body.
It is the last great ape to have its DNA sequence laid bare, following the chimpanzee, orang-utan and gorilla.
Comparisons of all their codes, including the human genome, will shed new light on the biology and evolution of these closely related species.
The sequencing and analysis work is reported in the journal Nature.
It was undertaken by an international team led from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
The samples for study were taken from a female bonobo known as Ulindi which resides in Leipzig zoo.
Bonobos (Pan paniscus), together with chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), are the closest living relatives of humans.
If one compares the DNA “letters” in the sequences of all three species, there is only a 1.3% difference between humans and their ape cousins.
The separation between the bonobo and the chimp is smaller still. Only four letters in every thousand is changed.
“Based on the differences that we observe between the genomes, one can actually estimate when the last common ancestor between these species lived,” explained MPI’s Kay Prufer.
“And between chimpanzees and bonobos that is maybe a million years in the past. For the chimps, bonobos, and humans – the common ancestor of all three lived somewhere around four to five million years ago,” he told the BBC’s Science In Action programme…