The bonobos, like the chimpanzee, is very closely related to our species. But unlike the chimpanzee, it probably doesn't want to kill you.
Behold the bonobo, our ape cousin that's kinder and gentler than the chimp or, well, us. Now scientists have mapped the primate's DNA, and some researchers say that may eventually reveal secrets about how the darker side of our nature evolved.
Scientists have found that we are as close genetically to the peace-loving but little-known bonobo as we are to the more violent and better understood chimpanzee. It's as if they are siblings and we are cousins, related to them both equally, sharing some traits with just bonobos and other characteristics with just chimps.
Bonobos and humans share 98.7 percent of the same genetic blueprint, the same percentage shared with chimps, according to a study released Wednesday by the journal Nature. The two apes are much more closely related to each other — sharing 99.6 percent of their genomes — said study lead author Kay Prufer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. "Humans are a little like a mosaic of bonobo and chimpanzee genomes."
Bonobos and chimps have distinctly different behaviors that can be seen in humans, with bonobos displaying what might be thought of as our better angels, said Duke University researcher Brian Hare. Bonobos make love, not war. Chimps have been documented to kill and make war. Bonobos share food with total strangers, but chimps do not. Bonobos stay close to their mothers — who even pick out their sons' mates — long after infancy like humans. But chimps tend to use tools better and have bigger brains, like humans.
"Is the bonobo genome the secret to the biology of peace?" asked Hare, who was not involved in the new research. "They have done something in their evolution that even humans can't do. They don't have the dark side we do.