Ancient chimpanzee 'Adam' lived over one million years ago, research reveals

February 25, 2016
Credit: University of Leicester

Chimpanzees have an ancient common ancestor—or genetic 'Adam'—that lived over one million years ago, according to University of Leicester geneticists.

In a study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust and published in the journal Genome Research, the research team led by Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester's Department of Genetics determined the DNA sequences of a large part of the Y chromosome, passed exclusively from fathers to sons, in a set of , bonobos, gorillas and orangutans.

The study also looked at mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), passed from mothers to offspring, in the same set of animals.

This allowed the construction of genealogical trees that could be compared between species and subspecies – and helped the researchers to discover that the genetic 'Adam' for chimpanzees lived a remarkable one million years ago.

Dr Pille Hallast from the Department of Genetics, lead author on the paper, explained: "The ancestor of a Y-chromosome family tree is sometimes called 'Y-chromosomal Adam'. We can compare the ages of 'Adams' between the species. For humans the age is about 200 thousand years, while for gorillas it's only about 100 thousand years. Thanks to two chimps in our sample, Tommy and Moritz, chimpanzees have an amazingly ancient 'Adam', who lived over 1 million years ago.

"The Y chromosome tree for gorillas is very shallow, which fits with the idea that very few male gorillas (alpha males) father the offspring within groups. By contrast, the trees in chimpanzees and bonobos are very deep, which fits with the idea that males and females mate with each other more indiscriminately."

The project's leader, Professor Mark Jobling from the University of Leicester's Department of Genetics, added: "It's interesting to compare the shapes of the trees between humans and our great-ape relatives. Considering both Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA trees, humans look much more like than chimps.

"This suggests that over the long period of human evolution our choice of partners has not been a free-for-all, and that it's likely that humans have practiced a polygynous system – where a few men have access to most of the women, and many men don't have access - over our evolutionary history as a species. This is more like the gorilla system than the chimpanzee 'multimale-multifemale' mating system."

Explore further: Orangutans harbor ancient primate Alu

More information: Pille Hallast et al. Great-ape Y-Chromosome and mitochondrial DNA phylogenies reflect sub-species structure and patterns of mating and dispersal, Genome Research (2016). DOI: 10.1101/gr.198754.115

Related Stories

Orangutans harbor ancient primate Alu

April 30, 2012

Alu elements infiltrated the ancestral primate genome about 65 million years ago. Once gained an Alu element is rarely lost so comparison of Alu between species can be used to map primate evolution and diversity. New research ...

Who's your daddy? If you're a gorilla, it doesn't matter

June 17, 2015

Being the daddy isn't important for male gorillas when it comes to their relationships with the kids; it's their rank in the group that makes the difference, says new research published in Animal Behaviour. The authors of ...

When humans split from the apes

February 22, 2016

When and where did humans split from the apes to become a separate branch of bipeds? Are we an ape or not? If so, which of the living Great Apes is the closest to humans?

Recommended for you

Herbicides can't stop invasive plants. Can bugs?

August 31, 2016

Over the past 35 years, state and federal agencies have spent millions of dollars and dumped untold quantities of herbicides into waterways trying to control the invasive water chestnut plant, but the intruder just keeps ...

Smarter brains are blood-thirsty brains

August 30, 2016

A University of Adelaide-led project has overturned the theory that the evolution of human intelligence was simply related to the size of the brain—but rather linked more closely to the supply of blood to the brain.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

BEGINNING
2 / 5 (4) Feb 25, 2016
Observed facts:

"Considering both Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA trees, humans look much more like gorillas than chimps."

Evolutionary speculation:

"This suggests that over the long period of human evolution our choice of partners has not been a free-for-all, and that it's likely that humans have practiced a polygynous system – where a few men have access to most of the women, and many men don't have access - over our evolutionary history as a species."

torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 25, 2016
BartV
1 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2016
Torbjorn, you are a smart guy, but very unwise to continue to hold onto a theory that has never been proven, but based only on man's imagination.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
5 / 5 (3) Feb 28, 2016
@Bart: Whether or not I am smart isn't relevant, but the fact that you lie and can't bother to read a link that shows your lying in the very first lines of its description of the science.

Basic biology is, due to its complexity (i.e. phylogenies) the *best* tested science we have by many orders of magnitude (oom)! We can test physics constants to some 11 oom, but a standard tree can be tested to 30 oom and the largest test - of universal common ancestry - to *2010 [!]* oom! [Theobald, Nature, 2010]

Not that nuts such as magic peddlers bothers about that...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.