Round the end of November the Daily Mail gave the genetics world a mite scare by publishing a rad article by Dr. Eugene McCarthy, a specialist in hybridization, about how we’re actually a nasty mix of chimpanzees and pigs. That’s right, Internet, a dude showed some proof that we be swines! Well, as you’d expect, an array of biology people have blogged and ranted about how McCarthy is totally bonkers (the pig and the chimpanzee diverted evolutionarily many a year ago according to some scientists), but I’d like to comment on how cool this possibility is.
The science behind it seems, after reading some counterpoints, dubious because of chromosomes and classic Darwinian what-have-you, but the observational parts of the theory kinda freaked me out. McCarthy points to a number of weird problems with our relationship to chimps, many of our features more akin to those of the piggy. First, we use pig organs and tissue for transplantation into human creatures, and our faces, notably our light eyes, are strangely porcine. Also, our skin is more like pigs, according to McCarthy, and we have a piggy layer of below-the-skin fat (who you calling fat?). There are a whole lot of anatomical likenesses between us and hogs evidently. So, to one scientist, we could be a hybrid.
This would mean that back in the day a pig and a chimpanzee (or ancestors or something) got down and dirty and there was “backcrossing” to eventually lead to us humans. Science, at least the little I’ve dug into, is pretty against McCarthy, one reason being the large divide in how many chromosomes each creature has. Also, some have said that McCarthy’s theory that says that a male pig and a female monkey did the nasty (female monkeys are better than male monkeys at raising the kid?) is as bunk as bunk can be. From the Daily Mail coverage, it seems McCarthy’s defense boils down to how dirty nature really is and that Darwinian evolution, at least how it’s understood now, is filled with holes.
As of the present moment, McCarthy has had to self-publish his paper detailing pig/chimp whoopsy-doopsy, meaning the scientific community as a whole is really not behind this rather gross possible turn of evolutionary events. And even though I lack a good deal of genetics training, my basic bio education tells me to not trust the theory that we’re monkey piggies.
But ultimately, that’s kinda sad, more because wouldn’t it be so awesome if we were crazy hybrids of two very different animals? It’s already hard enough proving to many people that we descended from apes; I’d love to see the debates springing up surrounding the idea of us coming from apes and also our supply of bacon. McCarthy’s crazy but weirdly convincing claims have already come under attack by many science folks, and according to McCarthy, most of the counterpoints are riddled with personal attacks, not unlike the response you’d get if you told a hard ass scientist that god made the dinosaurs. McCarthy’s ideas would be more of a blow to the scientist ego than to science itself, because study has no actual allegiance to emotion.
Although conventional wisdom may win out in this particular battle (sad, because I’d like to be a piggy), this strange event showed the true colors of many researchers who couldn’t stand the idea of evolution being turned upside down. McCarthy has some damn interesting claims, and I think it’d be worth it to delve further, because I bet we’d find some real eye-opening evolutionary business.