August 3, 2009

Study: Humans came from orangs, not chimps

Humans evolved from orangutans, not chimpanzees, a University of Pittsburgh anthropologist says, creating a furor in the chimp camp.

Fossil evidence shows striking anatomical similarities between humans and orangs, including enamel molars, similar hairlines and shoulder blades, and even the ability to smile with lips closed, Jeffrey H. Schwartz and John Grehan, director of science at the Buffalo Museum, say in the Journal of Biogeography.

Even our skulls and eyebrow bone structure more closely resemble the orangutan's than the chimp's or gorilla's dramatically ridged eyebrows, they say.

Indeed, humans share 28 anatomical characteristics with orangutans -- whose hair is typically reddish-brown, instead of the brown or black hair typical of other great apes -- compared with two with chimps and 11 with gorillas, Schwartz and Grehan say.

But defenders of the chimp theory produced genome evidence indicating chimps have a more than 98 percent genetic similarity with humans.

This compares with a 97 percent similarity with the gorilla and only 96 similarity with the orangutan genome, they say.

As far as I know -- and I know Jeff well, and we are friends -- he and John Grehan are the only two scientists on the whole planet who subscribe to this red-ape hypothesis, Todd Disotell, an anthropologist with New York University's Center for the Study of Human Origins, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I think he is utterly, factually wrong.

Schwartz counters that the DNA argument is flawed and overlooks the workings of complementary RNA rather than just DNA in making valid comparisons, the Post-Gazette said.

The magazine New Scientist said in an editorial it applauded the effort to challenge traditional scientific belief.