Relaxed natural selection in human populations during the Pleistocene

Jpn J Genet. 1993 Dec;68(6):539-47. doi: 10.1266/jjg.68.539.


Available genetic data reveals that the human population is more variable than the chimpanzee population at the protein level, whereas the opposite is the case at the DNA level. The lower level of silent polymorphism in the human population suggests that its long-term breeding size is smaller than the chimpanzee's. The neutral theory suggests that natural selection has been relaxed in the human population under the improved environment. The possibility that the relaxation began with the emergence of Homo sapiens is examined, because it is known that H. habilis underwent for the first time dramatic changes in brain size, way of life, and culture, and that the childhood of H. erectus was already twice as long as that of chimpanzee. The relaxation hypothesis predicts that, relative to chimpanzee, some 20% of deleterious mutations became harmless under the changed environment throughout the Pleistocene. More extensive study of genetic variation in non-human primates is necessary not only to confirm the hypothesis, but also to better understand the human genome itself.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Electrophoresis
  • Hominidae / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Selection, Genetic*