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Comparison of
Human and Chimpanzee

by Beth Kramer (ENSI 1992)

Major Revision Feb. 2015


Human Evolution Patterns
SEEChromosome Connections: Compelling Clues to Common Ancestry
Article by Larry Flammer published in the American Biology Teacher (NABT journal, February 2013).
Students compare banding patterns on hominid (human and ape) chromosomes, and see striking evidence of their common ancestry. Additional comparisons test (and confirm) that common ancestry hypothesis. Students find the “molecular fossil” of telomere fusion in our cells. This engaging inquiry demonstrates the power of multiple lines of evidence.


The banding patterns seen on stained chromosomes from humans and chimpanzees are compared in detail, showing striking similarities. Possible evolutionary relationships are explored, as are the chromosomes and relationships of other apes.


Degrees of structural similarities suggest degrees of biological relationship.


1. Chromosome banding patterns provide independent confirmation of relationship in hominids, in addition to anatomical, physiological, genetic, and molecular evidence.

2. Each species is characterized by a unique karyotype.

3. Predictions of similarities of chromosomes, based on the assumption of evolutionary relationships, can be tested.


   Students will....

1. actively engage in the careful analysis of chromosome banding patterns.

2. identify examples of inversion in homologous chromosomes.

3. demonstrate their understanding that degrees of similarities in chromosomes correspond to degrees of evolutionary relationship.

4. associate degrees of similarity with relative timing of evolutionary divergence.


Colored pencils

Student Handouts:
Version 1: Introduction / Procedures / Questions packet (4 pages stapled together), OR
Version 2: Introduction / Procedures, Separate Worksheet (2 pages each, back-to-back)
Human and Chimpanzee Karyotypes packet (four figures: 2a-2d) on 4 pages.

Hominid Karyotypes (all chromosomes, on one page, of humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans); this could just be an overhead transparency, if preferred).

Teacher Answer Key (same for both versions)

Human Chromosome #16 (overhead transparency), for discussion. Find this with Key/Resources material.

"Phylogeny" (evolutionary tree) of hominids, based on chromosome comparisons (overhead transparency) from article in Science, 1982, by Yunis and Prakash, OR...
Primate Cladogram
- Primate Cladogram (based on chromosome banding pattern analysis of apes and old world monkeys) should be examined. It's available in the Index to Graphic Pages under Student Handouts.

PowerPoint Presentation (Optional): This could make a useful introduction to this lesson, or serve as a quick overview of primate chromosome comparisons.


1 - 2 class periods (45-60 minutes each)



  INDEX to Printed Text
- Student Info/Worksheets
- Key to Questions
- Addendum - with important suggestions & comments.

   INDEX to Graphic Pages:
- Human & Chimp Karyotypes
- Hominid Karyotypes
- Phylogeny of Hominids
- Primate Cladogram based on Chrom.Banding Patterns

Introduction / Procedures / Worksheet packet(s). One packet for each team or individual student. Two versions:
Version 1: Questions embedded in context of procedures and information.
Version 2: Questions on separate 2 pages for easier handing in/checking.

Human and Chimpanzee Karyotypes packet (four figures: 2a-2d), provided on four pages. Provided here with the kind permisssion of the lead author, Jorge Yunis, and AAAS (from Yunis' 1982 paper in Science).

(Optional) Hominid Karyotypes: all chromosomes of human, chimp, gorilla, and orangutan, side-by-side, (formally group called hominids), for easy comparison. Provided here with the kind permisssion of the lead author, Jorge Yunis, and AAAS (from Yunis' 1982 article in Science). An overhead transparency of this page might be sufficient to conduct a class discussion on the striking similarities and nature of (= causes of?) their differences.

(Optional) A "Phylogeny" of hominids (formerly called hominoids), based on chromosome comparisons in Yunis' 1982 article. Provided here with the kind permisssion of the lead author, Jorge Yunis, and AAAS. On the same page is a simplified cladogram diagram based on Yunis' phylogeny. An overhead transparency of this page would suffice for class discussion of likely relationships.
In addition, a newer "Primate Cladogram" (based on chromosome banding pattern analysis of apes and old world monkeys) should be examined. It's available in the Index to Graphic Pages under Student Handouts.



+ Be sure to read the Addendum Page (see INDEX to PDF files under STUDENT HANDOUTS above.

1. This lesson could follow logically from the "Molecular Biology & Phylogeny" lesson, which in turn would follow the "Making Cladograms" lesson, providing another example of "independent confirmation", and strong indicators of biological (evolutionary) relationship.

2. Another context in which this lesson could be presented is following the lesson on "Hominid Cranial Comparison", the "skulls" lab, to show how chromosomal similarities parallel anatomical similarities. Similarly, consider doing the "Molecular Sequences & Primate Evolution" as part of this human evolution concert of lessons, all providing excellent "independent confirmation" of human evolution.

3. Be sure to at least read through this lesson completely, especially the "teacher notes" in the Key (answers) to the questions.

4. In addition, it would be useful to read the references given.

5. Students could work independently, in pairs, threes, or fours. You can provide a Information/Worksheet packet for each team (or student).

6. There are two versions of the handouts (your preference)
same key & chromosome sets for both:
Version 1: (original): Info and Questions combined in one 4-page stapled packet)
Version 2: Reusable Info sheet (1 sheet, 2 sides) + Separate Worksheet (1 sheet, 2 sides) for easier checking.

7. For whichever version you choose, prepare a packet (4 pages) of the human - chimp karyotypes for each team.

Click here for an animated PowerPoint presentation that nicely shows how inversions are produced, and how the various chromosomal changes can be mapped in a primate cladogram. This link will take you to the script for the PPP and how to request the PPP itself.

NOTE: NEW PRIMATE TAXONOMY - Based on molecular and genetic studies, primate taxonomy has been revised. The Hominid family now includes African apes and humans; humans are placed in the subfamily of "hominins". For details, click here.


See the procedures as described in the Student Handout.


Look for (and record) active participation in the activity.

Teacher-made test which addresses the assessable objectives.





1. A useful alternative to this lesson, created by webmaster Larry Flammer, is available in two versions. The emphasis in both versions is a little different. The Flammer alternative deals a little more with the idea that degrees of similarities correspond to degrees of kinship, and less on the details of chromosome analysis, and also involves students in doing a chromosome by chromosome matching by moving them about. The abbreviated version of this alternative can be found in the WGBH/PBS-Evolution Teacher's Guide on page 24: "Chromosome Clues". Contact WGBH for free copy of this excellent guide. If you would like a sharper version of the Chromosome Clues graphic page, send an email request to the ENSI webmaster.

A more extensive version is now available on the new web site for Don Johanson's Institute of Human Origins: "Becoming Human". It is in their "Learning Center" section; from there, click on "Lesson Plans", and then select "The Chromosome Connection". In this version, students compare the banding patterns on chromosomes with the rifling marks patterns on bullets. In both cases, they can indicate a common origin, a very powerful example with direct application to chromosomes and species. Students also explore the inversions, fusions, and other details. Here, too, if you have difficulty downloading sharp copies, contact the ENSI webmaster, asking to have them e-mailed to you.

NOTICE: An updated version of this has been posted directly on the ENSI site as "Chromosome Connection 2"

2. You might also find it useful to modify this lesson so that you can use one stapled package of handouts repeatedly (in different periods and every year), with all the background information and procedures pulled together onto one sheet (both sides), and a separate sheet on which students would answer the questions (both sides). (This has been done for you...see Version 2 of the handouts). This would save considerable time and materials, especially in checking papers. Perhaps the chromosome pages could be plastic-laminated or placed in plastic protective sleeves. Likewise for the reusable Information sheet in Version 2.

3. Encourage students to invert a chimp chromosome and place it next to the corresponding human chromosome, alining their centromeres, and see the clear example of a pericentric inversion (chromosomes 4 and 5 show this nicely, as do others). You might want to provide extra copies of those chromsomes to each group to make this easier, or make overhead versions to demonstrate such inversions.

4. An interesting treatment of the proposed evolution of human chromosome #3 in 6 major steps is presented in Strickberger's Evolution (1996 edition), page 207, figure 10-20. (This is not in the 1990 edition, since it is based on research published in 1993.) It might be ineresting to have a student demonstrate the six steps using strips of paper with color bands and markers as shown in Strickberger, or use cloth strips on a felt board with regions and markers clearly designated. (Or you could do this as a demonstration.)

This is a logical extension of any chromosome comparison lab. Students test the hypothesis that our chromosome #2 resulted from the fusion of two shorter chromosomes found in apes. They do this by searching DNA databases for expected telomere sequences. Also serves as a good application of DNA knowledge and how we can test hypotheses about events of the past.

The Mystery of the Matching Marks" includes an extensive PowerPoint presentation that will walk teacher and students through the process. Works like a CSI mystery and shows the process of science that tests a pre-historical event.

7. SPECIAL NOTE: Click here to explore many of the different lines of evidence pointing to speciation and macroevolution.




Take a look at this site: <http://www.gate.net/~rwms/hum_ape_chrom.html>. It nicely discusses, in detail, alternative explanations for the chromosome banding patterns, inversions and fusions found in humans and apes.

Wallace, Bruce. 1966. Chromosomes, Giant Molecules, and Evolution. W.W. Norton & Co. Excellent discussion of chromsome changes and examples of speciation.

Cummings, M.R. 1994. Human Heredity. St. Paul: West Publishing Co.

Stein, P.L. and Rowe, B.M. 1993. Physical Anthropology. McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Strickberger, M.W. 1996. Evolution.. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Pub., esp. page 206, 207.

Yunis, J.J. and O. Prakash, 1982. "The origin of man: A chromosomal pictorial legacy". Science, 215, 1525-1529. All the chromosomes of 4 different hominoids are compared: human, chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan.

Yunis, J.J. and Dunham, K. 1980. "The Striking Resemblance of High-Resolution G-Banded Chromosomes of Man and Chimpanzee". Science, 208, 1145-1148.

Jones, Steve, Robt. Martin and David Pillbeam (editors). 1992. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution. Cambridge University Press. An interesting version of a cladogram of old world monkeys, apes and humans, based on chromosome comparisons. Check the section on "Chromosomes" (pp. 298-302), by Jonathon Marks.

Beth Kramer,( ENSI teacher, 1992)
Retired from Lakewood High School
Lakewood, Colorado


Some of the ideas in this lesson may have been adapted from earlier, unacknowledged sources without our knowledge. If the reader believes this to be the case, please let us know, and appropriate corrections will be made. Thanks.

1. Original Source: Beth Kramer

2. Modified by: Larry Flammer (for version 2)

3. Reviewed / Edited by: M. Nickels, C. Nelson, J. Beard: 12/15/97

4. Edited / Revised for website by L. Flammer 1/22/98
5. Further edited and revised by L. Flammer 10/01
6. Further updated by L. Flammer 11/12/07
7. Major revision by L. Flammer Feb. 2015: Shifted entirely to use chromosome diagrams from Yunis' 1982 paper, making all appropriate changes in instructions, questions and answers. Also shifted from some html figures to all pdf figures.

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