There are a bunch of cross species hybrids out there: mules, ligers zebroids, beefalo, we recently discussed the majestic grolar bear but we tend to think of humans on a different level from that. We are human, there’s no species even close to us; how
could we possibly interbreed with something– also, blegh!
But guess what? It’s been done. And some say it could be done again. It’s been done because we all have a
little bit of Neanderthal in us, as we’ve discussed previously on SciShow, the average European is one to four
percent Neanderthal. So, in effect, we are all inter-species hybrids – though that DNA has become so ingrained in our species that basically it’s part of what
makes us human – but the more frightening and fascinating question to ask is ‘could
it happen again?’ Many have asked and some have even had the urge to try to
discover whether it is possible to interbreed humans and our nearest genetic relatives,
chimpanzees. Now before we proceed any further, let’s be clear that the official
position of SciShow, and hopefully of humanity is that this is a terrible idea.
It is deeply immoral; the creation of a potentially sentient organism, likely with many genetic disorders, who
was the only member of his’ or her’s species, so that we can study it for
science, is bad and wrong and pretty much the definition of evil. But, it is nonetheless a fascinating thing to
discuss, as long as we’re not actually thinking about doing it. So first, is it possible? Well humans and chimps do
share a lot of DNA. They do have one more pair
of chromosomes than humans, but different numbers of chromosomes isn’t an absolute barrier to interbreeding. In fact there are some species were individuals within
that species, have different numbers of chromosomes and they managed just fine; a
condition known as chromosomal polymorphism. In fact, in 2010 a perfectly normal
fertile Chinese man was discovered to have a only twenty-two chromosome pairs. In the end the genetic difference between human and
a chimpanzee, is roughly the same as the genetic difference between a horse and a zebra; and zebra-horse hybrids happen all the time. A quick note on terminology here, when geneticists create these name mashups – which they actually do for hybrid animals – they put the father
first in the portmanteau mother’s second, so if it’s a male
chimpanzee and a female human, that’s a ‘chuman’ and if it’s a male human, and a female chimpanzee, that’s a humanzee or a manpanzee. Yeah manpanzee. In 2006,
genetic researches suggested that after the last common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees – which lived between 5 and 7 million years ago – there was interbreeding between the human and chimpanzee lineages for 1.2 million years. That’s not that surprising, since those
lineages would likely have been very similar and living in the same geographies, but it was a bit of a shock to paleoanthropologists when the news broke. There’s no evidence however, of recent human chimpanzee hybrids, though not for lack of trying. In the 1920s, a soviet biologist ‘Ilya Ivanov’, implanted in his own sperm into a number of apes, including chimpanzees and orangutans. Even more creepily he attempted to inseminate human volunteers with ape semen. The good news is, he was never able to do that. The bad news is, it was because all of his primate test subjects had died likely due to being severely mistreated. Ivanov’s research never resulted in a pregnancy of any kind and eventually his research came
under scrutiny – somewhat unsurprisingly – the government freaked out and exiled him to Kazakhstan, and he died there a couple years later. That terrible research is the extent of what we know for sure, about whether human chimp hybrids are possible and with luck, it’s the most we will ever know for sure. Whether or not it can be done I hope we can all agree that it shouldn’t.
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