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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 May 11;107 Suppl 2:8918-23. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0914626107. Epub 2010 May 5.

Colloquium paper: phylogenomic evidence of adaptive evolution in the ancestry of humans.

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  • 1Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics and Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI 48201, USA.


In Charles Darwin's tree model for life's evolution, natural selection adaptively modifies newly arisen species as they branch apart from their common ancestor. In accord with this Darwinian concept, the phylogenomic approach to elucidating adaptive evolution in genes and genomes in the ancestry of modern humans requires a well supported and well sampled phylogeny that accurately places humans and other primates and mammals with respect to one another. For more than a century, first from the comparative immunological work of Nuttall on blood sera and now from comparative genomic studies, molecular findings have demonstrated the close kinship of humans to chimpanzees. The close genetic correspondence of chimpanzees to humans and the relative shortness of our evolutionary separation suggest that most distinctive features of the modern human phenotype had already evolved during our ancestry with chimpanzees. Thus, a phylogenomic assessment of being human should examine earlier stages of human ancestry as well as later stages. In addition, with the availability of a number of mammalian genomes, similarities in phenotype between distantly related taxa should be explored for evidence of convergent or parallel adaptive evolution. As an example, recent phylogenomic evidence has shown that adaptive evolution of aerobic energy metabolism genes may have helped shape such distinctive modern human features as long life spans and enlarged brains in the ancestries of both humans and elephants.

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