Stranger Fruit

A new date for chimp/human divergence


According to this paper, a hidden Markov model of the divergence between humans and chimps finds “a very recent speciation time of human-chimp (4.1 ± 0.4 million years)”. This would put the last common ancestor with Pan after a previously
date of between 4.98 and 7.02 million years. (TimeTree reports the weighted average for the time of nuclear divergence to be 5.56 million years). The age of 4.1 million years would apparently put the split during the time of such taxa as Australopithecus anamensis, A. afarensis and Kenyanthropus platyops. It will be interesting to see how this affects our current understanding of hominid evolution.

Ref: Hobolth A, Christensen OF, Mailund T, Schierup MH (2007) Genomic Relationships and Speciation Times of Human, Chimpanzee, and Gorilla Inferred from a Coalescent Hidden Markov Model. PLoS Genet 3(2): e7 doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.0030007


  1. #1 John Marley
    February 24, 2007

    A date was revised! Let us all put on sackcloth and ashes, for surely this means that evolution is false!

    You know that certain elements of society will claim just that.

  2. #2 Jonathan Vos Post
    February 24, 2007

    This is very careful and impressive work.

    I absolutely hate to think of what the Creationists and Intelligent Designers will do to spin it, based on their hopeless misunderstandings and intentional dishonesty.

    “It will be interesting to see how this affects our current understanding of hominid evolution.”

    Setting aside for a moment my limited mathematicalBiology credentials, I see this as a science fiction author: What does it mean to be Human?

    What did it mean when various hominids walked the earth?

    What did it mean when there were different species of “people” of the Cromagnon, Neanderthal, Java man varieties? And on Flores island?

    And what will it mean when our descendents spread through the galaxy and become a clade with rapidly varying morphology from planetary conditions (Larry Niven) and weightless conditions (Bruce Sterling) and the like?

    And what are the implications on how closely related chimps and gorillas are to us, in the priority of conservation efforts — i.e. absolutely banning “jungle meat” trade? And on the ethics of chimps in medical research?

    Again, the science itself is wonderful. And the implications are enormous.

  3. #3 Abel Pharmboy
    February 24, 2007

    Hmmm. When I saw the title, I thought that your post was going to be a prognostication about when it would happen.

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