The 1% Myth

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Many magazines and TV shows use the claim that human and chimp DNA are only different by 1 percent. But is this scientifically correct?

Now don’t get me wrong. I like primates of all types and would have no problems being related to them—if I actually were—but my search has always been about finding the truth. If I were to only look at that which makes me comfortable, then I might miss an entire aspect of the truth. And the truth is, as a creationist, it wouldn’t bother me a bit if human and chimp DNA were 1% different.

Why? Because the human genome has approximately 3,000 million base pairs (the nucleotides A, C, G and T) and 1% would amount to a difference in 30 million base pairs. If you used the base pairs as letters in the alphabet, you could write 10 Bible-sized books with that many letters. Seems like quite a difference to me.

So, it wouldn’t bother me a bit if 1% was the number, but here’s the thing. That 1% number was generated back in 1975, a long time before the entire human or chimp genome was sequenced. To compare the DNA, scientists used limited stretches of DNA from protein-coding genes which are indeed quite similar between different animals. Back then, the common belief was that the protein-coding genes were the only active portion of DNA and the rest of the genome was ‘junk’ left over from evolution. Since then, geneticists have come to realize the so-called ‘junk’ DNA has a purpose and this is the source of the major differences between animals.

In 2007, the journal Science published an article by Jon Cohen upping the percent differences between human and chimp DNA to around 5%. Then, in 2012, the 1% figure was quoted in an article in the same journal. Apparently, this figure has some staying power, despite evidence to the contrary.

In 2012, Drs Jeffrey Tomkins and Jerry Bergman used published studies to compare the entire genome of humans and chimps. They found the differences to be at least 13% and possibly as high as 19%. Why the range in the estimate? Because comparing the two genomes is complex. For example, what do you do with parts of the genome humans have, but which don’t exist in chimps and vice versa? Previously, scientists have compared only the similar portions of the DNA which leads to an inflated number of compatibility.

Whether it’s 1% or 19%, these are more differences than can be explained by even the most optimistic evolutionist. The truth is the human genome did not evolve. It was not the product of random chance, but was designed by God. And for that matter, so was the chimp’s.

What do you think? Why does the media continue to use the 1% figure even though it’s been shown to be a myth? Does the number really matter?

Reference: “The Myth of 1%,” Creation, 36 (1), 2014, p. 35.

Photo Credit: ID 16116329 © Dean Pennala | Dreamstime.com
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2 thoughts on “The 1% Myth

  1. What Tomkins hasn’t done yet is compare a human with a human or a human with a Neanderthal. Using a formula to compare just human/chimp results in a data point of 1 with nothing to compare it to. What does 19% mean. What if you and I differ by 10% using the same formula does that mean we are too different to have come from a common ancestor. I’m pretty sure that a fox and wolf genome are at least 20% different using the methods of Tomkins and yet Ken Ham says they are the same “kind” so that begs the question, is 13 or 19% a meaningful number? We can’t know until they do more analysis which they have had plenty of time to do but for some reason have not done despite being asked to do many times.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. Of course, you are correct. How we interpret the percent difference is what makes it meaningful. As I mentioned in the post, the number 5% was published in the journal Science, not by Tomkins, so it’s clear the 1% is a persistent myth. But again, is 5% to much of a difference to show common ancestory. Evolutionists might say no, creationists might say yes. So, the world view of the person making that judgement is key.

      Thank you. I appreciate your insightful and respectful comments.

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