Yes, you are bananas!
I mean this not in a figurative sense, like you’re crazy – but literally.
Anne Wojcicki is a co-founder of the genetics company 23andMe. In her recent “The Big Ideas” essay in the New York Times, she shared a pretty remarkable fact about how much of our genetic foundation, we share with bananas.
Instinctively, I would have imagined 5 or 10% would have been a good guess. Think again and read below.
Every living being is made from some combination of four chemicals: adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine (or AGCTs), and only through a simple reworking of this combination of letters do we have the spectacular diversity of species on our planet. Even with three billion letter combinations in nearly every one of our cells, there is just a 0.5 percent difference between my DNA and the DNA of any other person on the planet…. While a banana, a mouse and a chimp look quite different from each other, as well as from you and me, their biological foundation and ours is still built from those four chemical letters: A, G, C and T. In fact, humans share about 60 percent of their DNA with a banana, 80 percent with a mouse and 96 percent with a chimp. A few simple switches in lettering and your AGCTs could have been the AGCTs of your neighbor or those of a banana.
That’s right you’re 60% bananas.
Beyond this starting point, over the course of our lives, our DNA is impacted and changed according to environmental factors – hence the field of epigenetics.
In his new book, The Tangled Tree, author David Quammen offers an even more tantalizing look at evolutionary genetics by discussing the idea of “horizontal gene transfer.” Traditionally we think of genes being passed down from one generation to the next. Horizontal gene transfer refers to the swapping of genes between species lines.
So what does this all mean?
- At our very biological foundations we are more alike and connected to each other and other life forms than we realize.
- The environment we share with other life impacts our genetic makeup that we will eventually pass down to our offspring.
- Finally, during our lives, we even swap genes across other life forms – often with the explicit purpose of protecting each other from disease.
All of this adds up to a very simple but obvious conclusion. We are related to every living thing and the nature of that relationship is ongoing and mutually dependent. So act towards other life like yours depending on it – because it does.
And if you don’t see that maybe you are bananas – figuratively speaking that is.