FFE Magazine

50,000-year-old DNA reveals stunning fact about early Humans

by FFE News Staff


An international team of researchers based in the University of California – Berkeley have just discovered that our ancient Neanderthal cousins were a randy bunch. DNA from a woman’s toe dated 50,000 years ago revealed a history of interbreeding among four types of humans during that time.



The team compared Neanderthal genomes with a recently discovered group of early humans, the Denisovans, and found out that they were closely related. When these genomes were compared with those of modern humans, it was found that Neanderthals and Denisovans had left some of their genetic heritage. This led researchers to think that there could have been awkward interbreeding between the three types of humans.


Around 1.5–2.1% of modern non-Africans can trace their genomes to Neanderthals. Meanwhile, Oceanic and Asian populations have traces of Denisovan genomes.


But that’s not all. Genome comparisons reveal that the Denisovans may have interbred with another group of humans in Eurasia. There is strong suspicion that this group may have been an earlier ancestor, the Homo erectus, whose roots reach 1 million years ago.


UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology Montgomery Slatkin said ‘The paper really shows that the history of humans and hominins during this period was very complicated. There was lot of interbreeding that we know about and probably other interbreeding we haven’t yet discovered.’


Team member and post-doctoral student Flora Jay was the one who discovered through the toe that the Neanderthal woman was highly inbred. Her genome suggests she may have been the daughter of a brother and sister or half-siblings.


Meanwhile, the interbreeding might have occurred because of the small population sizes of Neanderthals and Denisovans. Slatkin said ‘We don’t know if interbreeding took place once, where a group of Neanderthals got mixed in with modern humans, and it didn’t happen again, or whether groups lived side by side, and there was interbreeding over a prolonged period.’


The research was published in the Nature journal Thursday.





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