Chimp and Human Reproduction
Country: United States
Date: November 2006
One of my former students came in to me stating
that he and a coworker were arguing as to whether or not a human
and a chimp (ape) could have offspring. At first guess i wanted to
say no, but of course there's always the mule and horse, who,
>although they may be sterile in general, do reproduce although
Could you help me answer his question?
Theoretically, I suppose its possible, for the reason you stated. But the
chimp/human offspring probably wouldn't be able to reproduce. Mules can't
reproduce because they have uneven chromosome numbers. See this link
However, in humans chromosome numbers other than 46 are usually associated
with various disorders, such as Down Syndrome. It doesn't seem to be
tolerated as well as in other species. I don't know why, and I'm not sure
if there are any answers yet.
There are examples of primate hybrids. Aotus (Owl monkeys) have varying
chromosome numbers and can hybridize with members that have different
chromosome numbers. See this link:
Note the different chromosome numbers listed. Individuals with odd
chromosome numbers are usually a result of translocation, where a chromosome
or piece of one attaches to a different chromosome. If the information on
that piece is intact, it will still be read. But when meiosis happens in
that organism, the chromosomes won't pair up correctly and crossing over
won't happen correctly. This is usually lethal to any gamete that is
There are also questions of biochemical differences that result in the
hybrid, etc. Apparently these hurdles can be overcome with donkeys and
horses. The hurdles between chimps and humans could be very different.
My guess is that a human-ape hybrid is not possible. Even small deletions of
one of the members of a pair of human chromosomes can have drastic effects
on a human (look up human chromosome deletions) and in a human-ape hybrid
you would have the deletion one of the members of all 23 pairs. There are no
known examples of humans missing one of the members of a pair of chromosomes
so it is probably a lethal condition.
Ron Baker, Ph.D.
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