Scientists have published a unified genealogy of modern and ancient humans

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Scientists have published a unified genealogy of modern and ancient humans

This huge genealogy is a mosaic of existing data sets, including modern genetic information from all over the world, as well as samples of extinct human relatives such as Neanderthals and denisovans. From this comprehensive framework, scientists can identify major events in human history, such as the migration of our species from Africa, but also encounter accidents about the past population, which needs more research to understand.

The result is a “unified pedigree of modern and ancient humans”, showing the power of computational methods to “restore the relationship between individuals and populations and identify the offspring of ancient samples”, according to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday. Although this particular study focuses on humans, the team points out that the same method can be used for almost any other species. The unified pedigree proposed in this work represents the basis for establishing a comprehensive understanding of human genome diversity, including modern and ancient samples, which enables applications ranging from improving genome interpretation to deciphering our earliest origins.

The genome is the blueprint of how to make an organism. Each human cell has a unique version. These gene units contain a large amount of heterogeneous information, which is usually generated by different technologies. For a long time, this has brought computational obstacles to scientists who want to combine various data sets. One of the innovations of the research is a new algorithm, which can organize all these information into a single family tree or tree sequence more effectively. By revealing the relationships between human individuals and populations that extend deep into our prehistory, this method mapped 231 million ancestral lineages of our human family over time.

These findings confirm many migration times known from archaeological evidence, but there are also some unexpected effects in the data. For example, the new family tree suggests that humans first arrived in North America 56000 years ago, much earlier than currently estimated, and points out that humans migrated to Papua New Guinea a full 100000 years earlier than the earliest evidence of habitation in the region. These attractive results do not necessarily mean that the timeline of these migrations should be pushed back, but they do provide a compelling way to move forward.

To this end, the team hopes to continue to add branches to this unprecedented genealogy. Although the initial version of the project contains the genetic information of thousands of people, the researchers say this method may accommodate millions of genomes in future iterations, providing an evolving portrait of our huge human family.