Molecular evolution of aerobic energy metabolism in primates

Lawrence I. Grossman, Timothy R. Schmidt, Derek E. Wildman, Morris Goodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As part of our goal to reconstruct human evolution at the DNA level, we have been examining Changes in the biochemical machinery for aerobic energy metabolism. We find that protein subunits of two of the electron transfer complexes, complex III and complex IV, and cytochrome c, the protein carrier that connects them, have all undergone a period of rapid protein evolution in the anthropoid lineage that ultimately led to humans. Indeed, subunit IV of cytochrome c oxidase (COX; complex IV) provides one of the best examples of positively selected changes of any protein studied. The rate of subunit IV evolution accelerated in our catarrhine ancestors in the period between 40 to 18 million years ago and then decelerated in the descendant hominid lineages, a pattern of rate changes indicative of positive selection of adaptive changes followed by purifying selection acting against further changes. Besides clear evidence that adaptive evolution occurred for cytochrome c and subunits of complexes III (e.g., cytochrome c1) and IV (e.g., COX2 and COX4), modest rate accelerations in the lineage that led to humans are seen for other subunits of both complexes. In addition the contractile muscle-specific isoform of COX subunit VIII became a pseudogene in an anthropoid ancestor of humans but appears to be a functional gene in the nonanthropoid primates. These changes in the aerobic energy complexes coincide with the expansion of the energy-dependent neocortex during the emergence of the higher primates. Discovering the biochemical adaptations suggested by molecular evolutionary analysis will be an exciting challenge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-36
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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