New DNA Study Detects Extinct Human Ancestry for Africans

Eloise Marshall
February 14, 2020

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.

"Although the ancient humans who returned to Africa may have already mated with members of the former ghost population, it is more likely to have crossed into Africa", Sankararaman said, pointing to the African fossils of H. sapiens that show Neanderthal features.

Sankararaman and co-author Arun Durvasula found this introgression, or sharing of genetic information between two species, between the "ghost population" and ancestors of West Africans may have occurred within the last 124,000 years. They were recovered from four West African populations, and advanced methods allowed the scientists to scour the genes in an attempt to find interbreeding cases that may have looked in the past. But research on the genetic ancestry of African populations has lagged behind discoveries about people with ancestral roots in Europe. They call for further analysis of both contemporary and ancient DNA from diverse populations in Africa.

Homo sapiens first appeared a bit greater than 300,000 years in the past in Africa and later unfold worldwide, encountering different human species in Eurasia which have since gone extinct together with the Neanderthals and the lesser-recognized Denisovans.

Dissimilar to the modern times, the world then was home to cognate species of human.

The findings on ghost DNA, published in the journal Science Advances, further complicate the picture of how Homo sapiens - or modern humans - evolved away from other human relatives. The researchers also note that it's possible humans interbred with several waves of different hominids over thousands of years.

The UCLA research reveals much more of that story for the four modern groups of people, the Yoruba of Nigeria, the Mende of Sierra Leone, the Esan of Nigeria and the Gambian in Western Divisions of Gambia.

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Earlier research has suggested that other archaic humans have lived in Africa a while back, but with no fossils or DNA to study, experts have tried in vain to understand more about them.

"They seem to have made a pretty substantial impact on the genomes of the present-day individuals we studied", Sankararaman said.

The approximately six billion people on Earth whose recent ancestry is not from Africa will have inherited between 1% and 2% of their genome from our closest, but now extinct, relatives: the Neanderthals.

The scientists are now excited to dive into the ancient genes and work out what they do.

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". But I've got to say it is just too soon to know. But while there is an ample fossil record of the Neanderthals and a few fossils of Denisovans, the newly identified "ghost population" is more enigmatic.

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