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Human Evolution

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 19–31 | Cite as

Molecular Views of Human Origins

  • R. Stanyon
  • D. Caramelli
  • B. Chiarelli
Article

Abstract

Over the last half century, comparative genomics has increasingly contributed to the definition, resolution and interpretation of human evolution. Early comparisons demonstrated that African apes and humans were more closely related and diverged later than commonly thought. However, it was difficult to determine the branching between humans, chimpanzees and gorillas. By the 1990s, sufficient biomolecular data had accumulated to demonstrate that chimpanzees and humans shared a common ancestor after the divergence of the gorilla. Current reconstructions place the divergence of humans and chimpanzees at 6–8 million years. Comparative genomics from complete genome sequencing to chromosome painting provide a scenario for the origin of the human genome. Starting form the ancestral mammalian karyotype, we can determine the major steps over the last 90 million years leading to the formation of each human chromosome. Despite considerable technical problems, studies of ancient DNA now provide a direct genetic witness of human evolution and add a temporal dimension to reconstructions of our evolutionary history and phylogeny. Ancient DNA has shown that Neanderthals probably did not interbreed with anatomically modern humans and did not make a significant contribution to the gene pool of our species. Ancient DNA has also contributed to the studies of the colonization of the Americas and the Pacific Island, and the domestication of plants and animals. Understanding the genetic basis of the physical and behavioral traits that distinguish humans from other primates presents one of the great future challenges of science.

Keywords

phylogeny evolution comparative genomics molecular cytogenetics ancient DNA 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratorio di Antropologia, Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e GeneticaUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

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