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In Context #1 (Spring, 1999, pp. 11-15); copyright 1999 by The Nature Institute

Genes and Life: The Need for Qualitative Understanding
Craig Holdrege

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. She states:

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