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I have a question about the genetic similarities between the major primate species (orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas, gibbons, and bonobos) and humans. A lot of times one hears about how humans and chimps are the closest to each other genetically, differing in their genetic makeup by only a few percent. I´m wondering though, how close genetically are the great apes to each other?

For example, how close are chimps to gorillas, gibbons, or bonobos? Or gorillas to orangutans, etc.? Do you guys know of any references comparing the genetic codes of all of the great apes to humans (from which I could deduce how similar the great apes are from themselves)? Or perhaps a direct comparison of primate genetic codes to each other? I´m mostly interested in the overall percentage difference between each species, but I´d love to look at any additional information as well such as where their genetic codes differ with regard to each other.

Any help or references to resources on the subject would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Question Date: 2012-09-30
Answer 1:

The short answer is that the bonobos and other chimps are more closely related to each other than they are to us. We are more similar to chimps and bonobos than we are to gorillas or than gorillas are related to chimps and bonobos. All of the species I just listed are more similar to each other than they are to orangutans. The gibbons are much more distantly related to all of these.

Here’s an excellent article on this topic:


Normally I wouldn’t send a student to an article like this, but I have seen the sophistication of your physics questions and think you can handle it.

Here’s another interesting article:
click here
Keep in mind that when we say something like, “There’s a 2% difference between chimp DNA and human DNA,” this doesn’t provide a complete picture of the differences. Even a small change in regulatory genes can have an enormous effect. For example, a particular “recipe” may never be switched on, be switched on for much longer, be switched on only in certain locations, etc. There’s a great description on how these regulatory genes work in “What Darwin Never Knew”:

Thanks for asking,

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