A sharper focus than that given by the previous collection of molecular and fossil studies
Credit: Anne Fischer, Max Plank-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
A team of researchers has proposed new limits on the time when the most recent common ancestor of humans and their closest ape relatives -- the chimpanzees -- lived. Scientists at Arizona State and Penn State Universities have placed the time of this split between 5 and 7 million years ago -- a sharper focus than that given by the previous collection of molecular and fossil studies, which have placed the divergence anywhere from 3 to 13 million years ago.
The scientists analyzed the largest data set yet of genes that code for proteins and also used an improved computational approach that they developed, which takes into account more of the variability -- or statistical error--in the data than any other previous study. Gene studies are needed to address this problem because the interpretation of the earliest fossils of humans at the ape/human boundary are controversial and because almost no fossils of chimpanzees have been discovered. "No study before has taken into account all of the error involved in estimating time with the molecular-clock method," said Sudhir Kumar, lead author on the report, which was published early online in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team describes its new statistical technique as a "multifactor bootstrap-resampling approach."
Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert!
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