Humans are only one of the species produced by the hominoid evolutionary radiation. Common and pygmy chimpanzees (our closest relatives), gorillas, orangutans, and the lesser apes also belong to this group. In humans, patterns of genetic variation are becoming increasingly better characterized by modern molecular methods. Understanding human variation in an evolutionary context, however, requires comparison of human patterns with those of other hominoids, to reveal features shared among hominoids and those unique to humans. Genetic variation among chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans is beginning to be characterized, so that comparisons are now possible.

From genetic data, several different kinds of information can be reconstructed, including the evolutionary relatedness of subspecies and populations, time estimates for evolutionary divergences, past population dynamics, extent of gene flow over geographical landscapes, and group social structure. Knowledge of hominoid genetic variation is also relevant to applied fields such as primate conservation and medicine.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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