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Online “Museum” Compares Humans with Our Closest Evolutionary Relatives


October 02, 2009  |  

The Museum of Comparative Anthropogeny (MOCA) Showcases a Collection of Comparisons Between Humans and Other Hominids

The UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA), an organized research unit of the University of California, San Diego, today announced the launch of its online Museum of Comparative Anthropogeny (MOCA), available at

MOCA is a one-of-a-kind, web-based collection of comparisons between humans and our closest evolutionary relatives, the so-called “Great Apes” – chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.

“This is a novel effort to bring together existing basic information about human-specific differences from other hominids, information which is currently limited, and widely scattered,” said Ajit Varki, co-director of CARTA.   “Having this information in one place could lead to new insights, trans-disciplinary interactions and ethically sound studies that might explain uniquely human adaptations and specializations.”

Using easy-to-navigate comparisons between humans and these other hominids, with an emphasis on uniquely human features, MOCA aims to communicate basic information to a broad audience of scientists from various disciplines as well as interested members of the public. Such comparisons are very useful in an approach to explain the origin of humans, called anthropogeny, Varki added.

“The site is being launched at an early stage so that interested readers with expertise on specific topics can provide feedback via the Web site,” said Varki. “MOCA is a perpetual work in progress, in that new information and topics will continue to be added as they are discovered.”

The virtual museum is organized into 24 different domains of knowledge, each with multiple topics grouped by areas of interest and scientific discipline. Each topic will cover existing basic information about a particular difference between humans and non-human hominids. CARTA organizers plan to have experts comment on various aspects of a topic, such as when differences between humans and Great Apes began to appear, or possible evolutionary causes for those differences.

MOCA will also include topics that debunk “popular wisdom” about claimed or assumed differences between humans and Great Apes, for example the false assumption that other hominids do not exhibit cultural behaviors.

“For these and other reasons, MOCA is called a ‘museum’ and is not meant to be an encyclopedia or database,” said Pascal Gagneux, assistant professor of cellular and molecular medicine at UC San Diego and CARTA’s associate director.  “Like a museum, the MOCA site is intended be an inviting place for people to browse and think, perhaps provoking further research.”

The online museum was produced in close collaboration with information technology experts from the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).  


The Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) was established between UC San Diego faculty and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies as a virtual organization to promote trans-disciplinary research into human origins, drawing on methods from a number of traditional disciplines spanning the humanities, social, biomedical, biological, computational and engineering, and physical and chemical sciences. As the word anthropogeny implies, CARTA’s primary goal is to explore and explain the origins of the human phenomenon.

About SDSC

As an organized research unit of UC San Diego, the San Diego Supercomputer Center is a national leader in creating and providing cyberinfrastructure for data-intensive research. Cyberinfrastructure refers to an accessible and integrated network of computer-based resources and expertise, focused on accelerating scientific inquiry and discovery. SDSC is a founding member of the national TeraGrid, the nation’s largest open scientific discovery infrastructure.

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Media Contact: Debra Kain, 619-543-6163,




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