Distinguishing humans from great apes with AluYb8 repeats

J Mol Biol. 2004 Jun 11;339(4):721-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2004.04.033.


Humans and chimpanzees share some 99% of DNA and amino acid identity, yet they exhibit important biomedical, morphological, and cognitive differences, difficult to accommodate within the remaining 1% of sequence diversity. Other types of genetic variation must be responsible for the taxonomic differences. Here we trace the evolution of AluYb8 repeats from a single origin at the roots of higher primates to a large increase in their number in humans. We identify nine AluYb8 DNA repeats in the chimpanzee genome compared to over 2200 repeats in the human, which represents a 250-fold increase in the rate of change in the human lineage and far outweighs the 99% sequence similarity between the two species. It is estimated that the average age of the human Yb8Alus is about 3.3 million years (My); almost 10% of them are identical in sequence, and hence are of recent origin. Genomic variations of this magnitude, distinguishing humans from great apes have not been realized. This explosive Alu expansion must have had a profound effect on the organization of our genome and the architecture of our chromosomes, inferentially altering profiles of gene expression and chromosome choreography in cell division. Additionally, we conclude that this major evolutionary process of Alu proliferation is driven by internal forces, written in the chemistry of DNA, rather than by external selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alu Elements*
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Species Specificity