Mitochondria are both the power plant of the cell and a central integrator of signals that govern the lifespan, replication and death of the cell. Perhaps as a consequence, genes that encode components of the mitochondrial electron transport chain (ETC) are generally conserved. Therefore, it is surprising that many of these genes in anthropoid primates (New World monkeys, Old World monkeys and apes, including humans) have been major targets of darwinian positive selection. Sequence comparisons have provided evidence that marked increases of non-synonymous substitution rates occurred in anthropoid ETC genes that encode subunits of Complex III and IV, and the electron carrier molecule cytochrome c (CYC). Two important questions are: (i) how has evolution altered ETC function? and; (ii) how might functional changes in the ETC be linked to evolution of an expanded neocortical brain?
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