The Molecular Clock
Inferred pairwise nucleotide substitutions among 17 mammal species from seven gene products, as estimated from protein studies, plotted against date of divergence, as estimated from the fossil record. The line is drawn from the origin through the oldest comparison (the marsupial / placental divergence at 125 MYBP). The strong linear relationship suggests that molecular differences between pairs of species are proportional to the time of their separation, rather than the degree of organismal difference. Therefore, measures of genetic divergence can be used to date the time of divergence for species pairs for which no fossil data are available: genes function as Molecular Clocks. (from A. C. Wilson 1976).