Chimpanzees have for years been the ideal subject for experimental research due to their closeness to the human species. Microbiologists have also had a question as to why humans and chimpanzees differ in appearance, even though we share almost 99 percent of our DNA?
Scientists at Georgia Tech University have recently discovered that the answer to this question lies in our junk DNA. This junk DNA, or non-coding DNA as it is also referred to, has traditionally been cast aside by researchers as it had no known biological connections. Non-coding DNA doesn’t directly affect our genes as they do not code protein sequences in our genes.
While humans and chimpanzees genes are nearly identical, there are some gaps which are created by the junk DNA inserting itself or deleting itself throughout . This movement of this junk DNA acts as a switch to turn on and off certain characteristics throughout the genome which in turn makes humans look like humans and chimpanzees look like chimpanzees. Approximately 42 percent of human DNA is made up of this junk DNA while in other mammals it is between 45 to 48 percent.
Studies have shown that the differences in these gaps created by the behavior of the junk DNA inserting itself and deleting itself throughout the genome is correlated with the way that the genes express themselves (i.e. looks, speech, behavior, etc). While the majority of these differences are believed to be biologically insignificant, the few thousand differences that are significant are helping to shed light on our evolution as a human species.