Washington: Do you know what separates you from a chimpanzee? A tiny bit of "junk DNA", scientists say.
It's known that chimpanzees share 99 percent of the same genes with humans despite their huge differences in appearance and ability.
Now, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US have found that although the sequence of genes in both humans chimpanzees is nearly identical, the animals have certain gaps in their genome.
In humans, those gaps are filled with what is known as "junk DNA", Foxnews.com reported.
For years, scientists assumed that this junk DNA did very little. By definition, the sequences have had no known biological functions, such as encoding for protein sequences.
The research, reported in the open-access journal Mobile DNA, indicates that these bits of seemingly random code act as important regulators within the human genome, serving as on and off switches, activating important genes and regulating how they are expressed.
"Transposable elements were once considered "junk DNA" with little or no function.
Now it appears that they may be one of the major reasons why we are so different from chimpanzees," said John McDonald, who led the study.
"Our findings are generally consistent with the notion that the morphological and behavioral differences between humans and chimpanzees are predominately due to differences in the regulation of genes rather than to differences in the sequence of the genes themselves," McDonald said.
First Published: Sunday, October 30, 2011, 18:27