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Evolution and the origins of man: clues from complete sequences of hominoid mitochondrial DNA.

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Department of Human Genetics, National Institute of Genetics, Graduate University for Advanced Studies, Mishima, Japan.


Dating the origins of Homo sapiens sapiens is a central problem in human population genetics and anthropology. Do we descend from a single recent ancestral population in Africa, or from multiple ancestral populations in various regions of the world which one million years ago simultaneously began developing into H.s.sapiens? The high substitution rate of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) makes this molecule suitable for genealogical and chronological research on closely related hominoid species. We have analyzed the complete mtDNA sequences of three humans (African, European and Japanese) and two African apes (common chimpanzee and gorilla) in an attempt to estimate more accurately the substitution rates and divergence times of hominoid mtDNAs. Nonsynonymous substitutions and substitutions in RNA genes have accumulated at an approximately constant rate. Under the assumption, supported by the fossil record, that the orangutan and African apes diverged 13 million years ago, we have previously obtained 4.7 million years as the divergence time between humans and chimpanzees. Using this date, we calibrated the substitution rates at synonymous sites and in the displacement-loop region as 4.03 and 7.25 x 10(-8)/site/year, respectively. Based on these rates together with the observation that the African sequence presented here is most diverged from all other human sequences, we inferred the age of the last common ancestor of the human mtDNAs as 140,000 +/- 18,000 years. The result strongly supports the recent African origin of modern humans, H.s. sapiens.

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