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Chromosome phylogenies of man, great apes, and old world monkeys

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Abstract

The karyotypes of man and of the closely related Pongidae — chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan — differ by a small number of well known rearrangements, mainly pericentric inversions and one fusion which reduced the chromosome number from 48 in the Pongidae to 46 in man. Dutrillaux et al. (1973, 1975, 1979) reconstructed the chromosomal phylogeny of the entire primate order. More and more distantly related species were compared thus moving backward in evolution to the common ancestors of the Pongidae, of the Cercopithecoidae, the Catarrhini, the Platyrrhini, the Prosimians, and finally the common ancestor of all primates. Descending the pyramid it becomes possible to assign the rearrangements that occurred in each phylum, and the one that led to man in particular.

The main conclusions are that this phylogeny is compatible with the occurrence during evolution of simple chromosome rearrangements — inversions, fusions, reciprocal translocation, acquisition or loss of heterochromatin — and that it is entirely consistent with the known primate phylogeny based on physical morphology and molecular evolution. If heterochromatin is not taken into account, man has in common with the other primates practically all of his chromosomal material as determined by chromosome banding. However, it is arranged differently, according to species, on account of chromosome rearrangements. This interpretation has been confirmed by comparative gene mapping, which established that the same chromosome segments, identified by banding, carry the same genes (Finaz et al., 1973; Human Gene Mapping 8, 1985).

A remarkable observation made by Dutrillaux is that different primate phyla seem to have adopted different chromosome rearrangements in the course of evolution: inversions for the Pongidae, Robertsonian fusions for the lemurs, etc. This observation may raise many questions, among which is that of an organized evolution. Also, the breakpoints of chromosomal rearrangements observed during evolution, in human chromosomal diseases, and after ionizing irradiation do not seem to be distributed at random.

Chromosomal rearrangements observed in evolution are known to be harmful in humans, leading to complete or partial sterility through abnormal offspring in the heterozygous state but not in the homozygous state. They then become a robust reproductive barrier capable of creating new species, far more powerful than gene mutations advocated by neo-Darwinism. The homozygous state may be achieved especially through inbreeding, which must have played a major role during primate evolution. Whether new species derive from unique individuals or couples (Adam and Eve), or through a “populational” process, remains a matter for discussion.

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De Grouchy, J. Chromosome phylogenies of man, great apes, and old world monkeys. Genetica 73, 37–52 (1987). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00057436

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