DNA archives and our nearest relative: The trichotomy problem revisited

Yoko Satta, Jan Klein, Naoyuki Takahata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Ever since Thomas H. Huxley correctly identified the chimpanzee and the gorilla as the two closest relatives of the human, the problem of the relationship among the three species ('the trichotomy problem') has remained unresolved. Comparative morphology and other classical methods of biological investigation have failed to answer definitively whether the chimpanzee or the gorilla is the closest relative of the human species. DNA sequences, both mitochondrial and nuclear, too, have provided equivocal solutions, depending on the region of the genome analyzed. Random sorting of ancestral allelic lineages, sequence convergence, and sequence exchanges between alleles or duplicated loci have been identified as likely factors confounding the interpretation of the interrelationships among the three species. In the present study most of these difficulties are overcome by identifying evolutionary causes that might potentially provide misleading information. Altogether, 45 loci consisting of 46,855 bp are analyzed. About 60% of the loci and approximately the same proportion of phylogenetically informative sites support the human-chimpanzee clade. The remaining 40% of loci and sites support the two alternatives equally. It is demonstrated that, while incompatibility between loci can be explained by random sorting of allelic lineages, incompatibility within loci must be attributed largely to the joint effect of recombination and genetic drift. The trichotomy problem can be properly addressed only within this framework. (C) 2000 Academic Press.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-275
Number of pages17
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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