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J Mol Evol. 1996 Dec;43(6):650-61.

Pattern and timing of evolutionary divergences among hominoids based on analyses of complete mtDNAs.

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Division of Evolutionary Molecular Systematics, University of Lund, Sweden.


We have examined and dated primate divergences by applying a newly established molecular/ paleontological reference, the evolutionary separation between artiodactyls and cetaceans anchored at 60 million years before present (MYBP). Owing to the morphological transformations coinciding with the transition from terrestrial to aquatic (marine) life and the large body size of the animals (which makes their fossils easier to find), this reference can be defined, paleontologically, within much narrower time limits compared to any local primate calibration marker hitherto applied for dating hominoid divergences. Application of the artiodactyl/ cetacean reference (A/C-60) suggests that hominoid divergences took place much earlier than has been concluded previously. According to a homogeneous-rate model of sequence evolution, the primary hominoid divergence, i.e., that between the families Hylobatidae (gibbons) and Hominidae, was dated at approximately 36 MYBP. The corresponding dating for the divergence between Pongo (orangutan) and Gorilla-Pan (chimpanzee) -Homo is approximately 24.5 MYBP, that for Gorilla vs Homo-Pan is approximately 18 MYBP, and that for Homo vs Pan approximately 13.5 MYBP. The split between Sumatran and Bornean orangutans was dated at approximately 10.5 MYBP and that between the common and pygmy chimpanzees at approximately 7 MYBP. Analyses of a single gene (cytochrome b) suggest that the divergence within the Catarrhini, i.e., between Hominoidea and Old World monkeys (Cercopithecoidea), took place > 40 MYBP; that within the Anthropoidea, i.e., between Catarrhini and Platyrrhini (New World monkeys), > 60 MYBP; and that between Anthropoidea and Prosimii (lemur), approximately 80 MYBP. These separation times are about two times more ancient than those applied previously as references for the dating of hominoid divergences. The present findings automatically imply a much slower evolution in hominoid DNA (both mitochondrial and nuclear) than commonly recognized.

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