Researchers Find Ancient Unknown Population’s Genes in Modern Humans

Scientists find evidence of 'ghost population' of ancient humans

Scientists find evidence of 'ghost population' of ancient humans

It is theorized that the ancestors of the modern West Africans interacted with the unknown race of archaic humans in a fashion similar to the way in which Europeans mingled with the Neanderthals.

Scientists examining the genomes of West Africans have detected signs that a mysterious extinct human species interbred with our own species tens of thousands of years ago in Africa, the latest evidence of humankind's complicated genetic ancestry.

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.

Ancestors of people living in what is today West Africa may have reproduced with a species of ancient humans unknown to scientists, new research suggests. According to the molecular genetic data, as many as 20,000 individuals belonging to this group of archaic humans interbred with the ancestors of modern West African humans at some point in the last 124,000 years.

"We estimate interbreeding occurred approximately 43,000 years ago, with large intervals of uncertainty", said University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) human genetics and computer science professor Sriram Sankararaman, who led the study published this week in the journal Science Advances. When they found each other, mating was only a natural process.

Well-established research, the study says, has established the existence of Neanderthal DNA in modern European populations, and Denisovan DNA in Oceanic populations. The technique "goes along a person's genome and pulls out chunks of DNA which we think are likely to have come from a population that is not modern human". Their work helps inform how archaic hominins added to the genetic variation of present-day Africans, which has been poorly understood, in part because of the sparse fossil record in Africa and the difficulty of obtaining ancient DNA. This allowed them to narrow down their search and identify the sequence that most likely belonged to the "ghost population". The four populations studied came from three countries: two from Nigeria, and one each from Sierra Leone and the Gambia.

This, coupled with the most recent discovery, further cimplicates the picture of how modern humans evolved from other, related races. "They account for 2% to 19% of their genetic ancestry".

One of the most remarkable things about the 2014 bombshell was that it proved that the only people on the planet who did not have any Neanderthal DNA were sub-Saharan Africans.

"We do not know what this African population may have been". "Within Africa, we don't know how many archaic groups might have been involved, and the study doesn't tell us that", she says.

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