The role of DNA insertions in phenotypic differentiation between humans and other primates

Elizabeth H.B. Hellen, Andrew D. Kern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


What makes us human is one of the most interesting and enduring questions in evolutionary biology. To assist in answering this question, we have identified insertions in the human genome which cannot be found in five comparison primate species: Chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, gibbon, and macaque. A total of 21,269 nonpolymorphic human-specific insertions were identified, of which only 372 were found in exons. Any function conferred by the remaining 20,897 is likely to be regulatory. Many of these insertions are likely to have been fitness neutral; however, a small number has been identified in genes showing signs of positive selection. Insertions found within positively selected genes show associations to neural phenotypes, which were also enriched in the whole data set. Other phenotypes that are found to be enriched in the data set include dental and sensory perception-related phenotypes, features which are known to differ between humans and other apes. The analysis provides several likely candidates, either genes or regulatory regions, which may be involved in the processes that differentiate humans from other apes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1168-1178
Number of pages11
JournalGenome biology and evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Ape
  • Dental
  • Indel
  • Neural


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