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Friday, April 15, 2011

New and improved primate family tree

Jill Pecon-Slattery of the National Cancer Institute has led an international team of biologists in refining our family tree. The result, pictured below, is the most comprehensive genetic comparison to date. In case you’re having difficulty locating humans, we’re ‘Homo’, in the purple color group.

The molecular phylogeny of 61 Primate genera, two Dermoptera genera, and one Scandentia genus and rooted by Lagomorpha.
Credit: Polina Perelman, Warren E. Johnson, Christian Roos, Hector N. Seuánez, Julie E. Horvath, Miguel A. M. Moreira, Bailey Kessing, Joan Pontius, Melody Roelke, Yves Rumpler, Maria Paula C. Schneider, Artur Silva, Stephen J. O'Brien, Jill Pecon-Slattery. A Molecular Phylogeny of Living Primates. PLoS Genetics, 2011; 7 (3): e1001342 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001342

The authors sequenced 54 nuclear genes from 186 different primates to come up with their chart. The differences and similarities between species not only demonstrate current levels of relatedness, but also shed light on the evolutionary history of primates, a topic of great interest to us fellow primates. Perhaps more importantly, the information could yield insight into our susceptibility to certain pathogens or environmental hazards.


  1. The "New and improved primate family tree" is very helpful and well made. What do the letters (from A to H), the numbers (inside and outside brackets) and the colored spots represent? Many thanks.

  2. Thanks for the comment. That's an excellent question. Here's more information about that picture:

    All unmarked nodes have bootstrap support (relative certainty) of 100%.
    Nodes with green circles have bootstrap proportions<70%,
    Grey circles 71–80%
    Black circles 81–90%
    Red circles 91–99%.

    Boxes indicate genus of species that have been at least partially sequenced.

    Numbers in parenthesis next to each genus indicate number of species present in study followed by the total number described.
    Numbers in parentheses next to family names indicate number of genera included in study followed by total described.

    Numbers in bold refer back to other figures in the paper, so never mind them.

    Letters A-H on nodes refer to fossil dates used for calibration of tree as follows
    A) Galagidae-Lorisidae split 38–42 MYA
    B) Simiiformes emerge 36–50 MYA,
    C) Catarrhini emerge 20–38 MYA
    D) Platyrrhini emerge 20–27 MYA
    E) Tribe Papionini emerge 6–8 MYA
    F) Theropithecus emerge 3.5–4.5 MYA
    G) Family Hominidae emerge 13–18 MYA
    H) Homo-Pan split 6–7 MYA.

    Hope this helps!

  3. Indeed, thank you very much!