Although your family tree on Ancestry.com doesn’t go back hundreds of thousands of years, the family tree that links us to our ancient human ancestors does.
Scientists recently sequenced the DNA from a bone of a long-lost relative of ours — a human species who lived (and died) 400,000 years ago in a cave in Spain. This marks the oldest human ever sequenced.
Like many studies in science, this ones posits more questions than answers. The sequenced bone belongs to an individual who was believed to be an ancestor of Neanderthals, our human cousins who lived in Europe around that time. However, DNA of the bone looks more like a Denisovan, a human species who is believed to have primarily lived in East Asia — not in Spain. So what species is this DNA from? Maybe the individual was an ancestor of Denisovans as well as Neanderthals; maybe this finding is evidence of ancient matings between our human ancestors; or maybe it represents a new species altogether.
So while you’re working hard building your own family tree, scientists too are puzzling over what this finding means for the family tree of the human species.
Photo Credit: Nature.com, Matthias Meyer et. al. “A mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominin from Sima de los Huesos.” Nature. December 2013. doi:10.1038/nature12788
About Julie Granka
Julie has been a population geneticist at AncestryDNA since May 2013. Before that, Julie received her Ph.D. in Biology and M.S. in Statistics from Stanford University, where she studied genetic data from human populations and developed computational tools to answer questions about population history and evolution. She also spent time collecting and studying DNA using spit-collection tubes like the ones in an AncestryDNA kit. Julie likes to spend her non-computer time enjoying the outdoors – hiking, biking, running, swimming, camping, and picnicking. But if she’s inside, she’s baking, drawing, and painting.
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