Context #1 (Spring, 1999, pp. 11-15);
copyright 1999 by The Nature Institute
Genes and Life: The Need for Qualitative Understanding
Which of our genes make us human?" An article with this title appeared
last fall in Science (Gibbons, 1998). The article reports that
there is hardly any difference between the DNA from humans and chimpanzees.
Approximately 98.5% of the DNA is the same. A photo of a chimp standing
upright accompanies the article, with this caption: "Chimpanzees may adopt
the occasional two-legged pose, but they differ dramatically from humans
in anatomy and behavior." Given the similarity of humans and chimps at
the DNA level, and the manifold differences at the biological and behavioral
levels, we might conclude that DNA has little to do with the essential
differences between human and chimp.
But the author of the article comes to a very different conclusion.
This means that a very small portion of human DNA is responsible
for the traits that make us human, and that a handful of genes somehow
confer everything from an upright gait to the ability to recite poetry