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Re: `baboon marker' indicates a non-African (e.g. Asian) ancestor of H. sapiens

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  • Stephen E. Jones
    Group I bought a book the other day which is the proceedings of a 1987 conference in the Netherlands that discussed Elaine Morgan s Aquatic Ape theory. I
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2002
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      I bought a book the other day which is the proceedings of a 1987
      conference in the Netherlands that discussed Elaine Morgan's "Aquatic
      Ape" theory. I don't necessarily agree with her theory but Morgan makes
      some powerful criticisms of the standard African savannah ape-human
      origins theory.

      I found particularly interesting that all 23 African primate species have in
      their genome a gene sequence called the "baboon marker" which indicates
      their ancestors were infected by a retrovirus, but no non-African primate
      species, including the 17 Asian species, carries it. In particular, the genome
      of Homo sapiens, including Africans, does not carry the viral marker. This
      would seem to rule out an African last common ancestor of Homo sapiens:

      "THE 'BABOON MARKER' Even at the level of his DNA, Homo
      emerges as a bafflingly anomalous member of the community of
      African primates. In the 1970s a team of American cytologists
      revealed the presence in baboons of a non-defective endogenous
      type C retrovirus, harmless to the baboons but capable of being
      released and causing reactions in other primate species (Benveniste
      and Todaro, 1976). All surviving African primate species contain
      viral gene sequences closely related to the RNA genomes of the
      baboon virus and providing protection against it, suggesting that at
      one time the virus (although subsequently losing its virulence) was
      both pervasive and life threatening. The presence of the 'baboon
      marker' is thus indicative of ancestral contact with the baboon virus,
      just as sickle cells in the blood indicate ancestral contact with
      malaria. Forty different primate species were examined by the
      American team. Of these it was found that all the 23 African
      species, including the gorilla and the chimpanzee, carry the marker.
      None of the 17 Asian species carries it.

      The surprise discovery was that in Homo sapiens of whatever race -
      there was no sign of the 'baboon marker'. This strongly suggests
      that at some time during the onset of their evolutionary separation
      from the apes, man's ancestors must have been isolated from the
      baboons and from the other African primates by some geographical
      barrier which entirely precluded contact. ... During this period of
      separation, the baboon retrovirus raged over continental Africa. Its
      advent could have been as sudden and threatening as that of the
      AIDS retrovirus. But it must have differed from AIDS in one
      respect. Since it affected all non-human primates of African origin,
      including the small nocturnal prosirmans in the forest canopy, the
      virus was probably airborne. No mainland African primate species
      failing to develop the protective 'baboon marker' gene sequence has

      To explain why humans are the only primates native to Africa not
      bearing the 'baboon marker', Todaro and Benveniste suggested that
      they descended from a Homo erectus strain which first emerged in
      Asia, and later migrated to Africa at a time when the baboon virus
      was no longer life-threatening. ... One scenario which appears
      totally untenable is that man's evolution continued unbroken on the
      baboon-haunted African savannah."

      (Morgan E., "Why a New Theory is Needed," in Roede M., Wind
      J., Patrick J.M. & Reynolds V., eds, "The Aquatic Ape: Fact or
      Fiction?: The First Scientific Evaluation of a Controversial Theory
      of Human Evolution," Souvenir Press: London, 1991, p.16)

      I then found the following on this "baboon marker" in one of Morgan's
      books, "The Scars of Evolution", written subsequent to that conference. It
      makes clearer that Todaro et al. claimed this was "evidence for an Asian
      origin of man" (as the Bible indicates BTW):

      "Far less familiar is the most challenging of all these markers. It is
      known as the 'baboon marker'. Its existence was first revealed in
      1976 by a team of researchers from the National Cancer Institute in
      Bethesda, Maryland. Their paper was entitled: 'Baboons and their
      close relatives are unusual among primates in their ability to release
      nondefective endogenous type C viruses', and the authors were G.J.
      Todaro, C.J. Sherr and R.E. Benveniste. A subsequent article in
      Nature by Benveniste and Todaro had a more arresting title:
      'Evolution of type C viral genes; evidence for an Asian origin of
      man'. The infectious type C virus identified in the first paper
      belongs, like the AIDS virus, to the class known as retroviruses.
      When such a virus infects an animal, the RNA of the virus is
      converted into DNA inside the cells. This means that it becomes
      part of the genetic make-up of the infected animal and can be
      genetically transmitted from parent to offspring. Retroviruses can
      also be passed on and re-integrated into the DNA of other animals
      of the same species (as with AIDS), and even on rare occasions into
      the genetic information of distantly related species. The type C
      virus is endogenous only in baboons - that is, it is a normal part of
      their make-up and has no harmful effect on them. But when it
      crosses the species barrier it has the potential to cause-disease in
      other primates. The Bethesda team was able to establish that the
      baboon virus must at one time have constituted a threat to all the
      primates of Africa except the baboons themselves, because every
      African monkey and ape species they examined contained, in their
      chromosomes, viral gene sequences closely related to RNA
      genomes of the baboon virus; these sequences evolved to act as a
      kind of antibody, a protection against the baboon virus. One thing
      we can deduce is that when the baboon virus first manifested itself
      it was able to cause - in all primates except themselves - a serious
      and probably life threatening disease. Every extant African monkey
      or ape species carries the protective gene sequence in its
      chromosomes. If any such species failed to develop this resistance,
      it failed to survive.

      The second thing we can deduce is that the virus was highly
      infectious. Unlike the AIDS virus, it was certainly not spread
      mainly by sexual contact. It was almost certainly airborne, because
      baboons are diurnal ground-dwellers, yet the species affected by the
      virus include not only other ground-dwellers like the chimpanzee
      and the gorilla, but also arboreal species like the colobus monkey
      and even small prosimians living high in the forest, like the bush
      baby and the galago. Baboons still carry the virus, but it appears to
      have lost its virulence in the course of time. By now it constitutes
      no particular threat to other primate species, even those not
      carrying the protective marker. These are, of course, the South
      American and Asian primates whose ancestors were never in the
      vicinity of the baboons when the plague was at its height. Among
      primates, then, the gene sequence (the 'baboon marker') is a reliable
      indication of African origin, just as the sickle-cell gene is in humans.
      Of the ape and monkey species tested, 23 showed the presence of
      the 'baboon marker' - and they were all African. They included the
      gorilla and the chimpanzee. Seventeen species, including the gibbon
      and the orang-utan, lacked the 'baboon marker' - and none of them
      were African.

      The most remarkable aspect of Todaro's discovery emerged when
      he examined Homo sapiens for the 'baboon marker'. It was not
      there. All races of Homo sapiens - including the African races - lack
      the baboon marker. Todaro drew one firm conclusion: 'The
      ancestors of man did not develop in a geographical area where they
      would have been in contact with the baboon. I would argue that the
      data we are presenting imply a non-African origin of man millions
      of years ago.' His own choice of a non-African site was Asia. His
      paper implies that, following the split from the apes, some
      populations of hominids, spread into Asia; that they were therefore
      absent when the baboon plague erupted; that any hominid
      population remaining in Africa at that time ultimately died out; and
      that all extant humans are descended from the Asian emigres, some
      of whom returned westward and crossed the Sue isthmus back into

      There is no evidence which actually rules out the hypothesis of an
      Asian origin. ... Todaro's scenario, involving dispersal to the East
      followed later by a trek back to the West, was felt by some to be
      inherently improbable, but no one suggested any other way of
      accounting for the absence of the 'baboon marker' in man. A non-
      African site does not necessarily imply Java or Peking. If the
      baboon plague broke out during the fossil gap when Afar was
      flooded, man's ancestors could have been living on ... an off-shore
      island miles away - or somewhere on the opposite shore of the
      proto-Red Sea. In either case, not even an airborne virus could
      have reached them, and by the time their descendants found
      themselves on the mainland, the baboon plague would have lost its
      virulence and they would never have needed to acquire the
      protective gene sequence.

      The Bethesda findings made one thing perfectly clear. The idea that
      man's ancestors left the trees and subsequently spent all their time
      on the baboonhaunted African savannah has to be discarded."

      (Morgan E., "The Scars of Evolution," Souvenir Press: London,
      1990, pp.175-178).


      PS: while we are talking about Homo sapiens, here is a nice quote by
      Mayr who admits that the "theologians" were right about the uniqueness
      of man all along!

      "When it was realized that apes had been man's ancestors, some authors
      went so far as to state `Man is nothing but an animal.' However, this is not
      at all true. Man is indeed as unique, as different from all other animals, as
      had been traditionally claimed by theologians and philosophers. ... Even
      though we often use the word `language' in connection with the
      information transmittal systems of animals, such as the `language of bees,'
      actually all of these animal species have merely systems of giving and
      receiving signals. To be a language, a system of communication must
      contain syntax and grammar. Psychologists have at tempted for half a
      century to teach language to chimpanzees, but in vain. Chimps seem to lack
      the neural equipment to adopt syntax. Therefore, they cannot talk about the
      future or the past. Having invented language, our ancestors were able to
      develop a rich oral tradition long before the invention of writing and
      printing. ... Thinking and intelligence are widespread among warm-blooded
      vertebrates (birds and mammals). But human intelligence seems to surpass
      that of even the most intelligent animals by orders of magnitude." (Mayr E.,
      "What Evolution Is," Basic Books: New York, 2001, pp.252-253)
      Stephen E. Jones sejones@... or senojes@...
      Home: http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones
      Group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CreationEvolutionDesign
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