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Creation 36(1):35–37, January 2013

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The myth of 1%

Why does the myth that human and chimp DNA differ by 1% persist when the difference is 30%?
Credit: Monkey man © Istockphoto.com/mattjeacock

Human and chimp DNA are very different


We still commonly see statements that human and chimp DNA are ‘almost identical’, with only 1% difference claimed. For example, in a 2012 report on the sequencing of the other chimpanzee species, the bonobo:

“Ever since researchers sequenced the chimp genome in 2005, they have known that humans share about 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, making them our closest living relatives.”1

And this was not from some disreputable source, but from the publishers of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Science is considered one of the top two science journals in the world (the other is Nature from the UK).

The original 1% claim goes back to 1975.2 This was a long time before a direct comparison of the individual ‘letters’ (base pairs) of human and chimp DNA was possible—the first draft of the human DNA was not published until 2001 and for the chimp it was 2005. The 1975 figure came from crude comparisons of very limited stretches of human and chimp DNA that had been pre-selected for similarity. The chimp and human DNA strands were then checked for how much they stuck to each other—a method called DNA hybridization.

Would a 1% difference be ‘almost identical’?

The human genome has about 3,000 million ‘letters’. If the 1% figure were correct, this would amount to 30 million letters difference, which would take 10 Bible-sized books to print. This is 50 times as much DNA as the simplest bacterium.3 This is actually a huge difference that far exceeds the ability of even the most optimistic evolutionary scenarios to create, even given the claimed millions of years.4

What is the real difference?

The publication of the human and chimp DNA sequences made possible a comparison. However, even this is problematic because the chimp genome was not built from scratch. Small pieces of the chimp DNA were first sequenced; that is, the order of the chemical letters was determined using chemical procedures in laboratories. These small strings of ‘letters’ were then aligned with the human genome in the places the evolutionists thought they should go (using computers to compare and place the segments). Then the human genome was removed, leaving a pseudo-chimp genome that assumed common ancestry (evolution), creating a mongrel sequence that is not real. The assumption of evolution in constructing the chimp genome in this way would make it look more like the human genome than it really is. But even with this evolutionary bias, the actual differences are much bigger than 1%.

In 2007 Science published an article on the similarity of human and chimp DNA titled, “Relative differences: the myth of 1%”.2 Author Jon Cohen queried the continued use of the 1% figure, citing comparisons following the publication of the draft chimp DNA sequence of around 5% difference. And yet the 1% myth is perpetuated in 2012 in the same journal.

Illustrating how wrong this is, in 2012 Drs Jeffrey Tomkins and Jerry Bergman reviewed the published studies comparing human and chimp DNA.5 When all the DNA is taken into account and not just pre-selected parts, they found,

“it is safe to conclude that human-chimp genome similarity is not more than ~87% identical, and possibly not higher than 81%.”

In other words, the differences are huge, possibly greater than 19%. Indeed, Dr Tomkins made his own thorough comparison and found the difference to be ~30%.6 Also, the Y-chromosomes, found only in males, are radically different, contrary to evolutionists’ expectations.7

Comparing two complex genomes is quite difficult. Assumptions have to be made about the importance of various parts of the DNA and the significance of different types of differences. For example, what do you do with human genes that are absent from chimps and vice versa? The tendency has been to ignore them and only compare the similar genes.

Many comparisons have involved only the protein-coding genes (only 1.2% of the DNA, and many protein-coding genes that are shared are indeed quite similar8), with the assumption that the rest of the DNA is ‘not important’ or even ‘junk’. However, this view is no longer tenable; almost all the DNA probably has a function, again contrary to evolutionists’ expectations.9 But even if ‘junk’ DNA were non-functional, the differences here are much, much greater than in the protein-coding regions and must be included when assessing differences. We are not 99% identical; nothing like it.

What would any percentage similarity prove?

Neither evolutionists nor creationists made, or could make, predictions about the percent similarity before it was calculated. In other words, whether it was 99%, 95%, 70%, or whatever, evolutionists would still claim common ancestry and we creationists would see common design. In understanding the implications of these data, we are not dealing with hard science that can be shown by experiments; everyone is deriving a meaning based on a personal worldview.

However, the larger the difference between apes and humans, the bigger the problem in trying to explain it within the evolutionary timeframe, so evolutionists have good reason to try to play down the differences.

The myth persists

Comparison of whole genomes has revealed much greater differences than 1%, and yet the myth of 1% persists. Why? Why does Science perpetuate the myth in 2012? In 2007 Cohen cited geneticist Svante Pääbo, a chimp consortium member at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany, as saying, “In the end, it’s a political and social and cultural thing about how we see our differences.”2

Perhaps evolutionists will not let go of the myth of 1% because it serves a political, social and cultural purpose? What would that purpose be, other than to deny the clear implication of DNA comparisons, which is that we are very different from chimps? The myth of similarity has been used to support the claim that humans have no special place in the world and even that chimps should be granted human rights.10

The large difference does not tally with evolutionary expectations but it is consistent with us being created separately from the animals. God made the first man from dust (Genesis 2:7) and the first woman from his rib (Genesis 2:22), not from any ape-like creature. And humans, unlike other creatures, were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26, 27), a special creation. This image was not lost but marred at the Fall,11 so God made humans with a special purpose now and in eternity.

References and notes

  1. Gibbons, A., Bonobos join chimps as closest human relatives, Science Now,13 June 2012; news.sciencemag.org. Return to text.
  2. Cohen, J., Relative differences: the myth of 1%, Science 316(5833):1836, 2007; doi: 10.1126/science.316.5833.1836. Return to text.
  3. The parasite Mycoplasma genitalium contains 521 genes (including 482 protein encoding genes) comprising 582,970 ‘letters’; Fraser, C.M. et al., The minimal gene complement of Mycoplasma genitalium, Science 270(5235):397–403, 1995; doi:10.1126/science.270.5235.397. Return to text.
  4. Batten, D., Haldane’s dilemma has not been solved, J. Creation 19(1):20–21, 2005; creation.com/haldane. Return to text.
  5. Tomkins, J. and Bergman, J., Genomic monkey business—estimates of nearly identical human-chimp DNA similarity re-evaluated using omitted data, J. Creation 26(1):94–100, April 2012; creation.com/chimp. Return to text.
  6. Tomkins, J., Comprehensive analysis of chimpanzee and human chromosomes reveals average DNA similarity of 70%, Answers Research Journal 6(1):63–69, Feb. 2013; answersingenesis.org. Return to text.
  7. Catchpoole, D., Y chromosome shock, Creation 33(2):56, 2011; creation.com/chimp-y. Return to text.
  8. Many proteins are very similar across a wide range of species, so comparing only protein-coding DNA tends to artificially accentuate similarity. Histones, which are involved in chromosome structure, and osteocalcin, which is a bone protein, are almost identical across many creatures. Differences between species seem to be due more to the non-protein-coding DNA that controls when and how much of the proteins are made. See Carter, R., Splicing and dicing the human genome, 1 July 2010; creation.com/splicing. Return to text.
  9. Batten, D., Dazzling DNA, Creation 35(1):38, January 2013. Return to text.
  10. Cosner, L., Going ape about human rights: Are monkeys people, too? creation.com/goingape, 9 July 2008. Return to text.
  11. Cosner, L., Broken images, Creation 34(4):46–48, 2012. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Contested Bones
by Christopher Rupe, Dr. John Sanford
US $24.00
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Readers’ comments

Amanda R.
Correct me if I am wrong but wouldn't it take 20 Bible sized books to type out a 1% difference since the human genome has 3,000 million base pairs, i.e. 6,000 million nucleic acids/letters and 1% would equal 60 million? Just think what a library we would have if we printed out a 27-30% difference.
Don Batten
The figures given in the article are correct. The amount of information is 3,000 million 'letters' because of the complementary pairing to make the base pairs—you only need the letters of one DNA strand to construct the other.
Jonathan M.
It's ridiculous that in cosmology/astronomy evolutionists "invent" 95% of what they claim to be the universe (dark matter and dark energy) and then in biochemistry/ genetics they ignore 95% of the DNA/ blueprints for life (calling it junk DNA, etc.) Their obsession with evolution is ruining science.
Jean P.
Even if chimps and humans were as close as Evolutionists claim, the big difference would be that chimps have a body and a soul, (personality comprising mind, emotions and will) snd the human also has a spirit, which is the capacity to worship.
No animal worships, and all humans worship something or someone. We are made that way.
1 Thes. 5:23
Kathleen B.
Bravo! Keep up the good work of setting the record straight. Like most people I was once brainwashed by evolutionary dogma. The way it's presented at school, Uni, medical & other textbooks & the media is it any wonder? Thanks to your wonderful Ministry I have had my eyes opened as have many others I am sure. I want to thank you & encourage you all.
Don Batten
Thanks for your encouragement; we appreciate it!
Don V.
The first time I was confronted with the chimp/human story was in the mid 1980s. I am a tool and die tradesman and I know that tooling does not rise out of raw materials by chance. One day a co-worker came to me and informed me that chimp/human story was proof of evolution, which he believed. I told him that my 1982 Honda was 95% the same as an armored tank. Shafts, bearings, gears, bushings, wheels, steel, copper, glass, aluminum, plastic, on and on. I informed him that the similarities did not mean that one evolved from the other by chance, but that the similarities only indicated a common Designer/Creator with similar purposes.
I like to stick to the points that are "clearly seen" as Scripture puts it.
Lynwood J.
I love that last line, Don ... "All creatures were created with intelligence suited to their needs.

Anyone doubting that should go poke the nearest bee hive or wasp's nest with a stick, and then run. The bees and wasps figure out pretty quickly who their attacker is.
David James R.
I often discuss issues with evos (evolutionists), who pose interminable questions, mostly for the purpose of attempting to discredit Creator God, under guise of seeking truth.

One of the common questions they raise concerns similarities between the chimp and human. I answer with something like:

"I'm not sure it would matter whether God had chosen to house the human being in the body of a chimp, nor house the chimp in the body of a human.

The far greater issue goes beyond biological similarities, and relates to what I refer to as one of the "invisible things of God" (Rom 1), which surely includes the invisible human mind that He created.

God gave man a brain as He did to every creature on earth, but this is a biological organ that can be physically examined and dissected.

However, the invisible human mind of man possesses unmatched abilities, unlimited streams of ideas, invention, memory, thoughts, language, and skills, and is capable of mentally visualizing and then directing his body to physically build every concievable unnatural and complex structure and machine, out of natural resources of the earth; and as such, it is the most powerful entity on earth that God created.

God ONLY gives this powerful mind to man, which also happens to be the only method God gives us to seek Him, to "see" the invisible things of God, and communicate with Him, which surely is the reason that man is without excuse for rejecting Him.

Of course, there are other issues concerning the biological brain of every creature, some of which seem to relate to God-given instinctual abilities, which may include some basic but minimal "brain-like" powers, which give animals and humans the ability to automatically act and react as necessary for survival in the physical world."

René D.
The reason why this "only 1% difference" still keeps popping up even today is a very simple one: evolutionists are so desperate for finding clues and evidence to support their theory that they are even willing to lie, cheat and violate the rules of true science in order to try to convince and brain-wash Joe public and even themselves.

"And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." (2 Th 2:11-12)

Let us keep on praying for all evolutionists that God will open their eyes one day for His truth, which is the absolute truth and that they may see the Light, which is Jesus Christ. Only He is the Truth, the Way and the Life.
Doug L.
A word of thanks to CMI and Don Batten for bringing this up. Since it keeps popping up in the secular world it's appropriate to continue exposing it.

The 1% figure is better applied to the level of our understanding, not to our similarities to chimps. No, I'm not a molecular biologist I think but that fact is so obvious that even an untrained observer like me can see it.

The 1% thing does demonstrate the prejudicial nature of people wanting to believe in evolution. To get that figure, they have to assume the non-coding regions of DNA are irrelevant. That assumption is extremely presumptuous since we are only beginning to understand the molecular biology of the body. The regions which they have called "junk" should better be called "areas we have yet to understand." Saying that those regions do nothing is not science, it's unjustified assumption. I think it's fair to call it bad science.
Gennaro C.
Be it the difference from Chimpies and humans' DNA 1% or 10% or whatever. What does it means? A carpenter makes both chairs and tables with four legs. Can we say that because both these pieces of furniture are made of the same material (DNA - wood or metal) that there is not too much difference from one another? Ask an evolutionist to try to sit on a table and put his lunch on a chair and enjoy it! Wouldn't he feel quite silly?
Don Batten
Hmmm... It's not quite the same thing. The 'plan' for the organism in written on its DNA. If the plans for two items of furniture were only 1% different, they would have to be similar (e.g. two tables, or two chairs). Of course this does not mean that the plans came about by natural processes; that would be silly. Plans/specifications only come from intelligent design.
john P.
This myth of 1% is making monkeys out of evolutionists-pardon the pun-but it should be obvious we are nothing like apes. As CMI says any superficial similarities point to a common designer, not a common mythological ancestor.
Chimps are not even the most intelligent animals, being less so than parrots and cats for example. Chimps are actually dangerous animals as well - I personally don't like them.
Us humans are made in God's image, His special creation with dominion over all creation. Our job, apart from the Great Commission of spreading the gospel, is to be good and faithfull stewards of His creation, not to deny God and try to lower ourselves to below the animals or the same level as animals as evolution would like us to believe. Evolution has been around since the devil tempted Eve she and Adam could become like God if they ate of the tree of Knowlege of Good and Evil. Mankind has been falling for this myth in all its guises ever since, but in the last 150 years even Christians have been led astray, as Peter warns us will happen in the last days of scoffers and skeptics. May our Lord grant us true discernment in this age and godly wisdom.
Don Batten
"Chimps are not even the most intelligent animals, being less so than parrots and cats for example."
We could also think of whales in the intelligence stakes. However, it is difficult to compare intelligence between created kinds. Parrots exceed chimps in language ability, a common criterion when making comparisons with humans, but perhaps not in other areas.
Whales apparently have a lot of their brain power dedicated to echo-location (sonar), something we cannot do at all.
All creatures were created with intelligence suited to their needs.

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