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The notion of the existence of a so-called "molecular clock" was first attributed to Émile Zuckerkandl and Linus Pauling who, in 1962, noticed that the number of amino acid differences in hemoglobin between different lineages changes roughly linearly with time, as estimated from fossil evidence.
However, there are other forces at work that may be equally responsible for evolutionary change, those involving biotic interaction and competition.
Bill Sanders offered comments and additional information on species.
The molecular clock is figurative term for a technique that uses the mutation rate of biomolecules to deduce the time in prehistory when two or more life forms diverged.
For viral phylogenetics and ancient DNA studies—two areas of evolutionary biology where it is possible to sample sequences over an evolutionary timescale—the dates of the intermediate samples can be used to more precisely calibrate the molecular clock.
However, most phylogenies require that the molecular clock be calibrated against independent evidence about dates, such as the fossil record.
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The biomolecular data used for such calculations are usually nucleotide sequences for DNA or amino acid sequences for proteins.