Monday, May 08, 2006

Our relatives

Never work with animals or children, as demonstrated by my post on the Bald Eagle, and then the pelicans ...

It’s obvious that I shouldn’t attempt this, but I laugh in the face of danger and I sneer in defiance at homilies!

We humans share around 25% of our genes with dandelions.

Roughly half of all human genes are also shared with our close cousin the banana, a fact of commonality that is all too frequently quite obvious.

We have in common with goldfish maybe 75% of our genome (or perhaps it’s only around 45%, I don’t remember). But worms – yes, definitely 75% are shared with wiggly worms.

With our mousey relatives we share an average of 86.5% of our DNA.

Are you getting the idea yet?

The human gene flaunts itself everywhere and in everything; human genes are the ultimate floozies. Yet, we get all excited about this sluttish propensity of our genetic material; it even makes us feel all warm and fuzzy and connected to the universe.

Our genes aren’t even as spectacularly copious as was once imagined. Before the genome mapping project scientists expected to find at least 100,000 unique genes, if not more. At project completion they’d found a paltry 31,000 genes.

In Spain the Socialist Party has introduced a bill to include simians in the world of people. I’m not sure if they will be given the vote, but if the bill passes, one assumes that upon adulthood said simians will, indeed, be granted the vote, a drivers license and they will be permitted to drink alcohol – although not necessarily all three at the one time.

The reason for this? Oh, come on, you’ve already guessed, haven’t you?

We share 98.4% of our genes with chimpanzees, 97.7% with gorillas, and 96.4% with orangutans.

The call to legislate simians into mainstream society stems too from The Great Apes Project, which demands fundamental human rights be extended to simians.

Their declaration states:

“We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans.”

See, the problem is, in our obsessive need to feel all warm and fuzzy about the earth and all creatures under the sun, and how inter-related we all are, and in the political frenzy of insisting that “we’re all just the same” (or just a simian), the fact is, it’s not the sameness that matters, it’s the differences, the fraction of difference that is at the root of chasms that can never be crossed. But we’re not allowed to say that anymore; we haven’t been allowed to say it for decades.

Differences, tiny differences, often matter more than the commonalities. Especially when it comes to genetics. But don’t say it out loud; don’t tell anyone: you're not allowed to. Which is a shame really, as the differences are magnificent, breathtaking, precious and endlessly fascinating.


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