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Human Ancestors Went Out Of Africa And Then Came Back: NYU/SUNY-Albany Research Team Proposes Controversial New Model for Evolution of Humans

the long-held view that the evolutionary history of the lineage leading to humans was confined to the African continent. A theory similar to Stewart and Disotell's was proposed more than 25 years ago by pioneering molecular anthropologistVincent Sarich, but he lacked the rigorous analytic methodology necessary to prove it.

Stewart and Disotell's research is based on parsimony analysis. That is, the model which involves the fewest evolutionary events to explain the data is the most plausible. The technique -- which was first developed by entomologists and has been used only recently by anthropologists -- uses computer technology to analyze large sets of data and identify the most parsimonious evolutionary model.

Using parsimony analysis, Disotell and Stewart find it more likely that the common ancestor of the "great" apes (orangutans, African apes and humans) evolved in Asia rather than in Africa. The problem with the traditional model, say Disotell and Stewart, is that it calls for at least six separate dispersal events out of Africa to account for all living and extinct hominoid species in Eurasia. Disotell and Stewart's model -- which requires only two hominoid migration events -- is a more parsimonious model; and therefore, they assert, a more plausible one.

Caro-Beth Stewart, an associate professor of biology at Albany, was a 1994 winner of the National Science Foundation Presidential Faculty Fellow Award. Her research into the molecular basis for adaptive evolution of higher organisms has also been funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Todd Disotell is about to become an associate professor of anthropology at NYU after recently being promoted. He has set-up and runs a molecular anthropology laboratory where he is investigating various aspects of ape and Old World monkey evolution supported by a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for young investigators. With additional NSF funding, he is applying the latest automated approaches to D
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Contact: josh plaut
josh.plaut@nyu.edu
(212) 998-6797
New York University
4-Aug-1998


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