Genome of “Genius Ape” Kanzi has been Sequenced

Posted by on Apr 16, 2012 in Media Releases | No Comments

from the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary:

Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary announced today that the genome sequence of the bonobo Kanzi has just been completed by Derek Wildman and his research team at the Molecular Evolution Laboratory at Wayne State University, only the second time a bonobo genome has been sequenced. Kanzi (age 32) was chosen for this study because of his extraordinary abilities: he was raised from birth in a mixed family of five humans and eight bonobos and can understand simple spoken English, make fire and cook simple meals, as well as make and use flint knives.

Kanzi is the rock-star primate at Bonobo Hope, having played music with Peter Gabriel! Wildman’s group has also determined Kanzi’s transcriptome that shows which of Kanzi’s genes are being actively expressed. It is hoped that these data may help answer the question “Is Kanzi a lone “genius ape” or is he but one of the first of humankind’s sibling species to have learned the uses of language – as well as music, tools and fire?”

The study of Kanzi’s genome and its activation patterns was initiated by Bonobo Hope Executive Director Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Dr. Wildman’s late colleague Morris Goodman. According to Wildman, lab director, the goal of sequencing Kanzi’s genome is to understand the unique abilities of Kanzi and the other Trust bonobos. The Wildman laboratory uses molecular evolutionary and comparative genomic approaches to understand genetic change during human evolution.

“Since people have been studying primate evolution, there’s been this dichotomy between humans and the apes,” said Dr Derek Wildman, who has published the findings of previous genetic studies with colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “What we’ve shown is that humans and chimpanzees are actually more similar to each other than either is to any of the other apes,” he told BBC News Online.

Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary is the home of the human/bonobo family. Matata, the bonobo grandmother, has three birth children: Panbanisha, Elikya and Maisha. Kanzi is her adopted son, and Nyota is Panbanisha’s son. The current star is two-year old Teco, the son of Kanzi and Elikya. The founding human generation consists of grandmother Sue Savage Rumbaugh, her sister Liz and Liz’s husband Sam Pugh. Sue’s son Shane and Sam and Liz’s daughter Heather were raised together with the young bonobos. Finally, Martha is Sue’s 6 year old granddaughter.

Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary is currently transitioning to a place of sanctuary for this unique family of bonobos who have learned much of human culture. To find out how you can help with a donation of time or money please visit


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