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Keywords:

  • hominid evolution;
  • interspecific hybrids;
  • maturation of the immune response;
  • mechanism of reproductive failure;
  • reproductive efficiency;
  • speciation

PROBLEM: The reproductive process is a major driving force in human evolution. An evolutionary perspective was brought to bear on some aspects of reproduction and its aberrations, and, conversely, some of the insights of modern reproductive genetics were used to investigate problems in evolution.

METHOD: The data used were obtained from the literature in evolution, anthropology, archeology, linguistics, and genetics.

RESULTS: The evolutionary line leading to modern humans diverged from that leading to the chimpanzees approximately 5–7 million years ago (Mya). Archaic Homo sapiens emerged ca. 0.3 Mya, and modern Homo sapiens and the development of language ca. 0.1 Mya; thus, modern humans occupy approximately 2% of the evolutionary history of the hominid line. During all of this time, the ancestors of modern humans were migratory hunter-gatherers. It was only during the Neolithic transition ca. 0.01 Mya (approximately 0.2% of of hominid evolutionary history) that agriculture was developed, and with it a settled lifestyle that allowed a more stable existence and the development of a different reproductive pattern. Various estimates indicate that the human population increased from 0.05 million at the time of the emergence of modern Homo sapiens to 6,000 million at the present time (120,000-fold increase).

CONCLUSIONS: These evolutionary considerations were used to explore three areas: (1) the extinction of the Neanderthals, who coexisted for ca. 65,000 years with modern humans; (2) the relatively low and stable rate of human conceptions (20–35% of ova fertilized naturally or fertilized in vitro); and (3) the long postnatal period required for the full maturation of the immune response. From these considerations, a broad view of the human reproductive process was obtained that may provide some insight into the rationale for the development of effective reproductive technologies.