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Name: Jessica
Status: Educator
Grade:  9-12
Location: NJ
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 different species.

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 formed.

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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