(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of scientists has combined genetic records from 3,609 individual genome sequences from 215 populations around the world to create a massive family tree that lists nearly 27 million ancestors and where they lived.
“We have a single genealogy that traces the lineage of all of humanity and shows how we are all connected to each other today,” Anthony Wilder Won’s, lead of the new study published in the journal Science, told CNN.
Wons, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Broad Institute and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says the study uses ancient genomes from samples taken more than 100,000 years ago.
“We can then estimate when and where these ancestors lived,” he says in a statement. “The strength of our approach is that it makes very few assumptions about the underlying data and can include both modern and ancient DNA samples.”
Scientists at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute have developed the algorithms needed to process the vast amount of data involved in this study.
“This study lays the groundwork for the next generation of DNA sequencing,” Ian Wong, one of the study’s lead authors and an evolutionary geneticist at the institute, said in a statement.
“As the quality of genomic sequences from modern and ancient DNA samples improves, the trees will become even more accurate, and eventually we will be able to create a single map that explains the origin of all human genetic variations that we observe today.”
Reuters’ Will Dunham said the study helps show the extent of human genetic diversity and how people around the world are connected to each other. Researchers have confirmed that the human species originated in Africa and then migrated to other parts of the globe.
“The earliest ancestors that we have identified go back to a geographic location in what is now Sudan,” Won told Reuters.
“These ancestors lived up to and over 1 million years ago – which is much older than current estimates of the age of Homo sapiens – 250,000-300,000 years ago. So parts of our genome were inherited from humans that we don’t recognize as modern humans.”
Over the years, researchers have collected mountains of information about the human genome. According to the researchers, their new study helps to make sense of this data from a broader perspective, according to Gizmodo’s George Dvorsky.
While more research is needed to understand all of the study’s results, scientists are already finding interesting – if not conflicting – clues in the family tree.
Evidence suggests that humans may have settled the Americas much earlier than originally thought. According to archaeologists, humans first appeared in North America about 20,000 years ago.
“Our method showed that ancestors appeared on the American continent 56,000 years ago,” Vaughn says in an interview with Times Live.
“We also suggested that a significant number of human ancestors in Oceania – in particular, in Papua New Guinea – appeared 140,000 years ago. But this is not hard evidence, such as radiocarbon dating of tools or fossils.”
The researchers hope that this new method of genealogical mapping will be useful to other scientists in the future. They believe it could lead to a breakthrough in medical research in humans and other species due to the way in which vast amounts of data are stored.
“Although the focus of this study is on humans, the method is applicable to most living creatures, from orangutans to bacteria,” Vaughn said in a statement.
“It can be especially useful in medical genetics to separate true associations between genetic regions and diseases from contrived associations arising from the common history of our ancestors.”
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