Scientists discover evidence of new ancient human species

Katie Ramirez
February 14, 2020

He says there is likely evidence of other ghost populations in modern humans in other parts of the world.

Further tests show that they can represent up to 19% of the genetic ancestry found in the genomes. DNA has also been extracted and analyzed from the more recently discovered Denisovans, another extinct group of archaic humans, whose DNA is found in people living today in South Asia and Oceania. That is, until our ancestors swept across the globe, claiming the planet for Homo sapiens. It was there they had sex with Neanderthals and the related Denisovans.

Over the past decade, advances in computing, statistical analysis, molecular biology and genetics have revealed a richer picture of humans and their interactions with ancient relatives, such as Neanderthals.

The finding further complicates an evolutionary history in which different hominin species diverged, only to-in some cases-meet up and swap genes with each other hundreds of thousands of years later.

Homo Sapiens versus Neanderthals. That's because the cold and dry environments of Eurasia are much better at preserving DNA that the wet heat of tropical Africa. A 2017 study of ancient DNA from southern Africa investigated 16 ancient genomes from people alive over the last 10,000 years. "It tells us that there was integration but it could have been from more than one archaic population, in theory". These segments arrived in modern humans through introgression, the process by which members of two populations mate, and the resulting hybrid individuals then breed with members of the parent populations. Taken together, this research suggests there were geographically diverse groups in Africa well before the main expansion out of the continent. But as the ancestors of European and Asian people migrated out of Africa, most would have died off in so-called "bottleneck" events.

The Neanderthals

Researchers compared 405 genomes of West Africans with Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes and worked out whether there had been interbreeding among an unknown hominin whose ancestors split off from the human family tree before Neanderthals. "Are they just randomly floating in our genomes?" But this archaic ancestry wasn't Neanderthal or Denisovan. Data suggests this may have involved multiple populations.

A mysterious population of ancient humans lived in West Africa about half a million years ago, and scientists believe their genes still live on in people today.

Browning notes that the ghost DNA appears frequently in the genetic material. However, usable DNA has not yet been extracted from archaic human fossils that have been found in that region - which is why the researchers' ability to draw conclusions about evolution without reference DNA information could go such a long way toward solving previously unanswered questions. Reports indicate that nearly 1/5 of their DNA appears to have originated from this "ghost population".

George Busby, Senior Research Fellow in Translational Genomics, University of Oxford. Nevertheless, this research contributes to the ever-growing cannon of research demonstrating the promiscuous, species-crossing and complicated behaviours of the ancestors of all of us.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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