Monday, January 12, 2009

Chimpanzees Don't Smoke

When I'm sitting around by myself, smoking a cigarette with my coffee, my mind wanders off in odd directions at times. I'd recently read another one of those articles about how closely we're related to chimpanzees, and with new techniques of analyzing DNA, even individual genes and where they are on the chromosomes, makes it increasingly possible to pinpont the genetic reasons for the differences between the two species.
So what made our ancestors forsake their arboreal past? What was it that favored standing upright and running on the ground over using all four limbs to negotiate tree branches? We now know that chimps aren't the fruit eating vegetarians we once thought. They hunt, they throw stones, use branches as clubs, even shaping them to be more effective, and use twigs to entice tasty termites out of holes. They'll opportunisticaly eat dead animals they find. Yes, chimpanzees make and use tools, just like we do. And while they don't speak the way we do, they do communicate verbally and with hand signs.
At the same time we're constantly bombarded by the anti-smoking rhetoric of "Oh, it causes genetic damage!" Why not "Oh, it can cause genetic changes"? Damaging a few genes isn't always a bad thing. If it wasn't for genetic change we'd all still be one celled creatures living in damp places.
At some point back in time our ancestors learned to use fire. We could cook meat and other foods to make it easier to digest, and get that valuable protein into our systems. We could survive in colder climates. Eventually we learned to build shelters more complicated than the platforms of branches that the chimanzees make to elevate themselves above most predators. We moved into caves and tents and huts covered with hides or thatching. A fire in the center of the floor kept it warm, and smoke drifting up through the thatch or the spaces between the overlapped hides tended to preseve them. It also chased away flies and mosquitos.
At some point it was discovered that meat hung from the roof would also get preserved by being smoked, and that the dried hides could be worked back and forth over a branch, breaking down the fibers and softening the hide. Chimnies hadn't been invented yet so our ancestors got to breath plenty of smoke. All that genetic "damage!" No wonder over the past half a million years we've become so different from our chimpanzee cousins. They don't smoke!
I took my cup inside, got a refill, and came back outside to enjoy the night air. I lit another cigarette.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of the people I've worked with over the years makes me wonder if we are that different from our Chimp cousins....

2:18 PM  

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