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Hum Mutat. 2007 Feb;28(2):99-130.

Understanding the recent evolution of the human genome: insights from human-chimpanzee genome comparisons.

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  • 1Department of Human Genetics, University of Ulm, Ulm, Germany.


The sequencing of the chimpanzee genome and the comparison with its human counterpart have begun to reveal the spectrum of genetic changes that has accompanied human evolution. In addition to gross karyotypic rearrangements such as the fusion that formed human chromosome 2 and the human-specific pericentric inversions of chromosomes 1 and 18, there is considerable submicroscopic structural variation involving deletions, duplications, and inversions. Lineage-specific segmental duplications, detected by array comparative genomic hybridization and direct sequence comparison, have made a very significant contribution to this structural divergence, which is at least three-fold greater than that due to nucleotide substitutions. Since structural genomic changes may have given rise to irreversible functional differences between the diverging species, their detailed analysis could help to identify the biological processes that have accompanied speciation. To this end, interspecies comparisons have revealed numerous human-specific gains and losses of genes as well as changes in gene expression. The very considerable structural diversity (polymorphism) evident within both lineages has, however, hampered the analysis of the structural divergence between the human and chimpanzee genomes. The concomitant evaluation of genetic divergence and diversity at the nucleotide level has nevertheless served to identify many genes that have evolved under positive selection and may thus have been involved in the development of human lineage-specific traits. Genes that display signs of weak negative selection have also been identified and could represent candidate loci for complex genomic disorders. Here, we review recent progress in comparing the human and chimpanzee genomes and discuss how the differences detected have improved our understanding of the evolution of the human genome.

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