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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Jan 31;103(5):1370-5. Epub 2006 Jan 23.

Variable molecular clocks in hominoids.

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  • 1School of Biology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332, USA.


Generation time is an important determinant of a neutral molecular clock. There are several human-specific life history traits that led to a substantially longer generation time in humans than in other hominoids. Indeed, a long generation time is considered an important trait that distinguishes humans from their closest relatives. Therefore, humans may exhibit a significantly slower molecular clock as compared to other hominoids. To investigate this hypothesis, we performed a large-scale analysis of lineage-specific rates of single-nucleotide substitutions among hominoids. We found that humans indeed exhibit a significant slowdown of molecular evolution compared to chimpanzees and other hominoids. However, the amount of fixed differences between humans and chimpanzees appears extremely small, suggesting a very recent evolution of human-specific life history traits. Notably, chimpanzees also exhibit a slower rate of molecular evolution compared to gorillas and orangutans in the regions analyzed.

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