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Keywords:

  • humans;
  • great apes;
  • molecular evolution;
  • DNA sequence variation

Abstract. Kaessmann H, Pääbo S (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany). The genetical history of humans and the great apes. J Intern Med 2002; 251: 1–18.

When and where did modern humans evolve? How did our ancestors spread over the world? Traditionally, answers to questions such as these have been sought in historical, archaeological, and fossil records. However, increasingly genetic data provide information about the evolution of our species. In this review, we focus on the comparison of the variation in the human gene pool to that of our closest evolutionary relatives, the great apes, because this provides a relevant perspective on human genetical evolution. For instance, comparisons to the great apes show that humans are unique in having little genetic variation as well as little genetic structure in their gene pool. Furthermore, genetic data indicate that humans, but not the great apes, have experienced a period of dramatic growth in their early history.