Study Finds Human Mutation Rates Are Slower than Those of Our Primate Relatives

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In a recent study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, and Copenhagen Zoo have found that humans’ mutation rate is slower than the one of our primate relatives. This paper is essential in estimating when our common ancestors lived and how we can help with the conservation of the great apes in the wild.

The human mutation rate has slowed down in the past million years, so compared to the great apes, mutations in humans are fewer, concluded the researchers who compared mutations of chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans to corresponding studies on humans.

Aarhus University’s Søren Besenbacher explains that they have gathered a lot of information on humans and the rate of mutation that helped them:

Over the past six years, several large studies have done this for humans, so we have extensive knowledge about the number of new mutations that occur in humans every year. Until now, however, there have not been any good estimates of mutation rates in our closest primate relatives.

The team focused on replicating the humans studies on the great apes, so they studied 10 families of fathers, mothers, and offspring (seven chimp families, two gorilla families and an orangutan family).

New Calculation for Speciation, Improving Conservation Efforts

Researchers found in all families more mutations than they expected compared to the number of mutations found in human families. This led to the conclusion that the mutation rate per year is almost a third-lower in humans compared to that in apes.

The study also adds that because of the higher mutation rate, the number of genetic differences between chimps and humans will be bigger over time. Mikkel Heide Schierup (Aarhus University) suggests that the speciation which separated us from chimps must be recalculated:

The times of speciation we can now calculate on the basis of the new rate fit in much better with the speciation times we would expect from the dated fossils of human ancestors that we know of.

Copenhagen Zoo’s Christina Hvilsom added that the study could also help them accurately date how populations of the great apes were changed with the climate and how they will cope with the climate change in the future.


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