From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published February 1, 2011 12:17 PM

Humans Share Genetic Ancestry with Orangutans

For those who believe in the theory of evolution, the general consensus is that mankind evolved from chimpanzees. Chimps are man's most closely related living species. While that may be true, a new study published in the online journal, Genome Research, has a surprising new finding. Parts of the human genome are more closely related to the orangutan.


Orangutans may possibly be the most intelligent of the great apes. They utilize a variety of sophisticated tools, have a complex communication system, and make nests for sleeping in branches or foliage. They are native to the southeast Asian countries of Indonesia and Malaysia. The name, orangutan, is derived from the Malay language, translating to "man of the forest."

Archaeological finds were used to establish the orangutan's evolutionary relationship with humans and to estimate the times when our evolutions diverged. To aid in this comparison, the human genome (which has been mapped out) was compared with the recently published orangutan genome sequence. The only other primate genome to be sequenced has been the chimpanzee.

Conducting this study was an international group of scientists led by Mikkel Schierup and Thomas Mailund of Aarhus University in Denmark. Their goal was to get to the bottom of and truly understand primate evolution. "There remains signals of the distant past in DNA," said Mailund, "and our approach is to use such signals to study the genetics of our ancestors."

Humans, chimps, and orangutans all share a common ancestor. Many millennia ago, their populations diverged, and their common genetics changed over time to the point where they became multiple species. But because all three species started at the same point together, it is possible that humans and orangutans still share genetic variants that were lost by more closely related primates like the chimp.

They concluded that man's genome is split half and half as to which primate species we are more related to, the chimp or the orangutan. Their work can be found in the online journal Genome Research.

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