The knowledge of our human origins has taken a huge leap forward after anthropologists decoded the DNA of a bone as old as 400,000 years old, revealing that our ancestors may have had sex with more species of early humans than previously thought.
A bone was dug up at what appears to be an ancient burial site in Sima de los Huesos, in Spain. Its genome indicates that the early European was more closely related to a much earlier species of human dating as far back as 700,000 years ago than to our immediate ancestors, the Neanderthals. Neanderthals lived as recently as 30,000 years ago, before humankind’s modern incarnation, Homo sapiens, appeared on the scene. Homo sapiens were previously thought by scientists to have interbred with Neanderthals, but not with other hominid species.
The bone owes its good condition to the subterranean climate in the northern highland area of Sierra de Atapuerca. The find was at a depth of about 30 meters, where the temperature is a little more than 10 degrees Celsius.
Svante Paabo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, was one of the key participants in the research, which was published in the journal Nature. He points out that the results extracted from the study of the bone “show that we can now study DNA from human ancestors that are hundreds of thousands of years old.”
That is a substantial achievement in itself, as such old DNA had until now only been studied when found in permafrost – mountain soil that is frozen over and allowing for preservation of bones and flesh, like the ones we often find when conducting animal studies.
But the technique does little to reduce the mystery the anthropologists are faced with now.
Scientists have found the oldest DNA evidence yet of humans’ biological history. But instead of neatly clarifying human evolution, the finding is adding new mysteries.
In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.
The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.
The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.
“Right now, we’ve basically generated a big question mark,” said Matthias Meyer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a co-author of the new study.
Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil.
“This would not have been possible even a year ago,” said Juan Luis Arsuaga, a paleoanthropologist at Universidad Complutense de Madrid and a co-author of the paper.
Finding such ancient human DNA was a major advance, said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the research. “That’s an amazing, game-changing thing,” he said.
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Any Volunteers? No?
A scientist claims to have enough DNA to start cloning a neanderthal baby and is now looking for “an adventurous woman” to give birth to a neanderthal baby.
- Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA
- His ambitious plan requires a human volunteer willing to allow the DNA to be put into stem cells, then a human embryo
They’re usually thought of as a brutish, primitive species.
So what woman would want to give birth to a Neanderthal baby?
Yet this incredible scenario is the plan of one of the world’s leading geneticists, who is seeking a volunteer to help bring man’s long-extinct close relative back to life.
Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School believes he can reconstruct Neanderthal DNA and resurrect the species which became extinct 33,000 years ago.
His scheme is reminiscent of Jurassic Park but, while in the film dinosaurs were created in a laboratory, Professor Church’s ambitious plan requires a human volunteer.
He said his analysis of Neanderthal genetic code using samples from bones is complete enough to reconstruct their DNA.
He said: ‘Now I need an adventurous female human.
‘It depends on a hell of a lot of things, but I think it can be done.’
Professor Church’s plan would begin by artificially creating Neanderthal DNA based on genetic code found in fossil remains. He would put this DNA into stem cells.
These would be injected into cells from a human embryo in the early stages of life.
It is thought that the stem cells would steer the development of the hybrid embryo on Neanderthal lines, rather than human ones.
Oldest human genome reveals roots of first Americans – New Scientist
http://news.google.com Wed, 20 Nov 2013 18:02:22 GMT
Design & TrendOldest human genome reveals roots of first AmericansNew ScientistA 24,000-year-old boy from Siberia is helping redraw the Native American family tree. He is the oldest human to have his genome sequenced, and the results suggest that the …
A 24,000-year-old boy from Siberia is helping redraw the Native American family tree. He is the oldest human to have his genome sequenced, and the results suggest that the first people to colonise the Americas were not simply east Asians. Instead, those early settlers had both western Eurasian and east Asian roots.
The first Americans probably arrived from north-east Asia via a land bridge, around 15,000 years ago. Confusion arose because Native Americans have DNA that resembles that of people in east Asia, but no modern contemporary population exactly fits, says Eske Willerslev of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.
Plus Native Americans carry some DNA characteristic of modern Europeans, which has led some researchers to suggest that America was first colonised from Europe, not Asia.
Read more …
Ancient humans interbred with Neanderthals, Denisovans and a mystery species that may have originated in Africa and migrated to Asia, paleontologists said this week.
Improved genome sequencing from two extinct human relatives suggests the forerunners to modern humans intermingled with one another more extensively than was previously known.
Ancient genomes, one from a Neanderthal and one from a different archaic human group, the Denisovans, were presented Monday at the Royal Society in London, where researchers said they’d found evidence to suggest rampant interbreeding among members of ancient human-like groups more than 30,000 years ago in Europe and Asia – including an unknown human ancestor.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” said Mark Thomas, evolutionary geneticist at University College London.
Previous Neanderthal and Denisovan genome sequences showed the two groups had interbred with anatomically modern humans, contributing to the genetic diversity of modern humans, and revolutionized the study of ancient human history.
But those genome sequences were of low quality and full of gaps and errors.
A team led by David Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, said they’d produced genome sequences that matched the quality of modern human genomes.
All humans whose ancestry originates outside Africa have about 2 percent Neanderthal genomes, and some Oceanic humans, such as Papua New Guineans and Australian Aboriginals, have about 4 percent of their DNA from interbreeding between their human ancestors and Denisovans, whose remains were found in a cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains.
Researchers said the Denisovans interbred with Neanderthals and humans who lived in China, East Asia and Oceania.
Scientists have mapped the genome of a four-year-old boy who died in south-central Siberia 24,000 years ago.
The Mal’ta boy was buried with a variety of artifacts, including a Venus figurine
Scientists have mapped the genome of a four-year-old boy who died in south-central Siberia 24,000 years ago.
It is the oldest modern human genome sequenced to date, researchers report in the journal Nature.
The results provide a window into the origins of Native Americans, whose ancestors crossed from Siberia into the New World during the last Ice Age.
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They suggest about a third of Native American ancestry came from an ancient population related to Europeans.
Analysing the genes of present-day populations can only tell us so much about the past because traces of ancient movements have been overwritten many times.
So studying the DNA from ancient remains is becoming a powerful tool for disentangling the numerous waves of migration that produced the genetic patterns seen in people today.
The burial of an Upper Palaeolithic Siberian boy was discovered along with numerous artifacts in the 1920s by Russian archaeologists near the village of Mal’ta, along the Belaya river.
The DNA of ancient viruses first spotted in the Neanderthal genome have now been identified in modern humans – although whether they cause disease is not yet clear.
In 2010, researchers unveiled the genomes of two extinct groups of human – the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. This revealed that some humans share a few per cent of their DNA with their extinct cousins. Ever since, geneticists have been poring over the ancient DNA sequences for an insight into Stone Age life.
Last year, Jack Lenz’s team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York began looking for signs of endogenous retroviruses in the ancient genomes, a class of virus that not only invades cells but worms its way into DNA. These retroviral gene sequences make up about 8 per cent of the human genome, and are part of what is sometimes called “junk” or non-coding DNA because they don’t contain genetic instructions to make proteins.
Lenz found 14 retroviral gene sequences in the Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA. When he compared this to the human genome used as a standard reference, he found that none of the sequences overlapped – in other words, it seemed that modern humans did not share this endogenous retroviral DNA with their extinct cousins.
Not so fast
That was until Robert Belshaw at Plymouth University, UK, and Gkikas Magiorkinis at the University of Oxford, who study whether these viral DNA sequences contribute to disease, decided to take a closer look.
They examined the genomes of 67 people with cancer, and found they each contained seven of the sequences supposedly unique to the ancient humans. Belshaw suspects that all 14 might still be around, although finding the rest will take more time. The viruses insert themselves into DNA repeats – patterns that occur in multiple locations throughout the genome, only one of which will carry the sequence in question, so tracking them down is time consuming.
The finding suggests that the viruses probably infected our ancestors before we split from the lineage that led to Neanderthals and Denisovans, roughly 400,000 years ago.
So why did Lenz’s team miss the retroviral sequences in humans?
Stone-tipped spears predate existence of humans by 85,000 years
Remains of the world’s oldest known stone-tipped throwing spears, described in a new paper, and so ancient that they actually predate the earliest known fossils for our species by 85,000 years.
There are a few possible implications, and both are mind-blowing. The first is that our species could be much older than previously thought, which would forever change the existing human family tree.
The second, and more likely at this point, is that a predecessor species to ours was extremely crafty and clever, making sophisticated tools long before Homo sapiens emerged.
Homo heidelbergensis, aka Heidelberg Man, lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia from at least 600,000 years ago. He clearly got around, and many think this species was the direct ancestor ofHomo sapiens in Africa and Neanderthals in Europe and Asia
(Reuters) – Humans first made dogs their best friends in prehistoric Europe, where groups of hunter-gathers learnt to tame dangerous wolves into companions between 19,000 and 32,000 years ago, scientists said on Thursday.
The new research, based on analysis of DNA fragments from fossils of ancient wolves and dogs, confounds earlier theories that dogs were originally domesticated in the Middle East or East Asia.
Experts generally agree that dog training started out with a few grey wolves hanging around human encampments in the hope of picking up scraps. Over time, humans accepted them, perhaps initially as guards or hunting partners, and taught them to be useful companions.
Where and when this happened, however, has been a matter of controversy.
Now Olaf Thalmann, from Finland’s University of Turku, and colleagues believe they have placed initial doggy taming firmly in Europe after finding that modern dogs’ DNA most closely matches that of either ancient European canines or modern European wolves, but not wolves outside Europe.
“We’re pretty sure that Europe played a major role in the domestication of the dog,” Thalmann, whose research was published on Thursday in the journal Science, said in an interview.
Ancient DNA helps researchers unlock secrets of a cave bear and horse which roamed Earth hundreds of thousands of years ago.