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The bonobo, the chimp's sexpot cousin, gets its genome mapped (+video)

Bonobos are apes that are as closely related to humans as the chimp. But unlike chimpanzees and humans, bonobos resolve most conflicts with sex.

Gottfried Hohmann from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology is leading a Bonobo research project in the Congo. One of the things he and his colleagues want to discover is why bonobo males are less aggressive than male chimpanzees. Could it be because the females band together with other females?
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Ulindi, a female bonobo at the Leipzig Zoo in Germany, has had her genome sequenced, researchers report today (June 13), making bonobos the last of the great apes to have their genomes mapped. The resulting genetic code may help unlock the secrets that separate humans — physically, intellectually and behaviorally — from our closest primate relatives.

Bonobos are often seen as the chimpanzee's peaceful cousin. The two primates look very similar and are very closely related, but for some reason chimps resolve conflicts with war while bonobos prefer sex to resolve arguments. Previous studies have also shown that bonobos are more generous with food than chimps are.

"Bonobos and chimpanzees are very different in their behaviors," study researcher Kay Pruefer, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Germany, told LiveScience. "While we are not yet able to look at the genome and know why that is, it's important to know the differences between bonobos and chimpanzees to tease apart what genes might be responsible for that."

Ulindi's genetic map

What stood out for the researchers were the genetic similarities found between humans and both chimps and bonobos. [Animal Code: Our Favorite Genomes]


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