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Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Mar;22(3):387-90. Epub 2004 Nov 10.

Molecular clocks do not support the Cambrian explosion.

Erratum in

  • Mol Biol Evol. 2005 Apr;22(4):1156.


The fossil record has long supported the view that most animal phyla originated during a brief period approximately 520 MYA known as the Cambrian explosion. However, molecular data analyses over the past 3 decades have found deeper divergences among animals (approximately 800 to 1,200 MYA), with and without the assumption of a global molecular clock. Recently, two studies have instead reported time estimates apparently consistent with the fossil record. Here, we demonstrate that methodological problems in these studies cast doubt on the accuracy and interpretations of the results obtained. In the study by Peterson et al., young time estimates were obtained because fossil calibrations were used as maximum limits rather than as minimum limits, and not because invertebrate calibrations were used. In the study by Aris-Brosou and Yang, young time estimates were obtained because of problems with rate models and other methods specific to the study, and not because Bayesian methods were used. This also led to many anomalous findings in their study, including a primate-rodent divergence at 320 MYA. With these results aside, molecular clocks continue to support a long period of animal evolution before the Cambrian explosion of fossils.

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