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July 6, 2014 Show: Tracing Evolution Through Ape DNA and Chasing the Ebola Virus

The fact that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor isn't debatable, but scientists are following genetic mutations to determine how long ago our common ancestor lived. (photo by Hugo van Lawick/National Geographic)
The fact that chimpanzees and humans have a common ancestor isn’t debatable, but scientists are following genetic mutations to determine how long ago our common ancestor lived. (photo by Hugo van Lawick/National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

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– As West Africa struggles with the largest known outbreak of Ebola, Dr. Peter Piot shares how he helped discover and describe the virus’ first known outbreak in 1976 Zaire. He’s optimistic the current West African Ebola outbreaks won’t reach pandemic-level as he describes humans as an “accidental host” to Ebola: it kills us too quickly to propagate successfully. Piot explains that Ebola is a virus that preys on poverty, because in the developed world, hospitals are well-equipped enough to contain its spread once the outbreak is recognized.

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– In a recent study that pushed back the human-chimp common ancestor back to approximately 13 million years ago, Oxford geneticist Gil McVean looked at the rates of genetic mutation in chimpanzees and humans. He learned that when a chimp father ages, the DNA it passes on contains more mutations that could potentially harm the offspring. Using these types of mutations, McVean was able to better study the rates of evolution of humans, chimpanzees and a common ancestor that once walked among us as well.

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