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Mol Biol Evol. 2003 Mar;20(3):424-34.

Estimation of divergence times for major lineages of primate species.

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Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics and Department of Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania, USA.


Although the phylogenetic relationships of major lineages of primate species are relatively well established, the times of divergence of these lineages as estimated by molecular data are still controversial. This controversy has been generated in part because different authors have used different types of molecular data, different statistical methods, and different calibration points. We have therefore examined the effects of these factors on the estimates of divergence times and reached the following conclusions: (1) It is advisable to concatenate many gene sequences and use a multigene gamma distance for estimating divergence times rather than using the individual gene approach. (2) When sequence data from many nuclear genes are available, protein sequences appear to give more robust estimates than DNA sequences. (3) Nuclear proteins are generally more suitable than mitochondrial proteins for time estimation. (4) It is important first to construct a phylogenetic tree for a group of species using some outgroups and then estimate the branch lengths. (5) It appears to be better to use a few reliable calibration points rather than many unreliable ones. Considering all these factors and using two calibration points, we estimated that the human lineage diverged from the chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, Old World monkey, and New World monkey lineages approximately 6 MYA (with a range of 5-7), 7 MYA (range, 6-8), 13 MYA (range, 12-15), 23 MYA (range, 21-25), and 33 MYA (range 32-36).

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