, Volume 24, Issue 1-2, pp 189-204

The number of nucleotides required to determine the branching order of three species, with special reference to the human-chimpanzee-gorilla divergence

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A mathematical theory for computing the probabilities of various nucleotide configurations among related species is developed, and the probability of obtaining the correct tree (topology) from nucleotide sequence data is evaluated using models of evolutionary trees that are close to the tree of mitochondrial DNAs from human, chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, and gibbon. Special attention is given to the number of nucleotides required to resolve the branching order among the three most closely related organisms (human, chimpanzee, and gorilla). If the extent of DNA divergence is close to that obtained by Brown et al. for mitochondrial DNA and if sequence data are available only for the three most closely related organisms, the number of nucleotides (m*) required to obtain the correct tree with a probability of 95% is about 4700. If sequence data for two outgroup species (orangutan and gibbon) are available, m* becomes about 2600–2700 when the transformed distance, distance-Wagner, maximum parsimony, or compatibility method is used. In the unweighted pair-group method, m* is not affected by the availability of data from outgroup species. When these five different tree-making methods, as well as Fitch and Margoliash's method, are applied to the mitochondrial DNA data (1834 bp) obtained by Brown et al. and by Hixson and Brown, they all give the same phylogenetic tree, in which human and chimpanzee are most closely related. However, the trees considered here are “gene trees,” and to obtain the correct “species tree,” sequence data for several independent loci must be used.