IBE (CSIC-UPF): New ancestor to humans discovered

IBE (CSIC-UPF): New ancestor to humans discovered

News from IBE

Scientists at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint centre of Pompeu Fabra University (UPF) and the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), have discovered a new type of now extinct hominid that lived in south-east Asia. This species, not described to date, is an ancestor of humans like the Neanderthals and the Denisovans and they crossed with modern humans tens of thousands of years ago. The results are published today in the journal Nature Genetics and confirm the potential of genomics to build the past. The first authors of the study are Mayukh Mondal and Ferran Casals, of the IBE and UPF respectively, who worked in collaboration with Partha Majumder of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics in India.

The genetic analysis of a group of individuals from the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean has revealed that their DNA contains fragments that do not correspond to modern humans who left Africa about 80,000 years ago. When comparing these sequences with those of Neanderthals and Denisovans, scientists have seen that they also are clearly different. The researchers of the IBE have concluded that this DNA belongs to an extinct hominid that shares a common ancestor with the other two but has a different history. This is new proof that the human genome contains small amounts of information from extinct ancestors.

According to Jaume Bertranpetit, principal investigator of the IBE and UPF professor, “we have found fragments of DNA of the extinct hominid forming part of the genome of modern humans. In the near future we hope to obtain the complete genome from fossil remains”. In fact, different groups of scientists are now analysing bones that might correspond to this hominid, perhaps the so-called Homo erectus.

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Mondal M, Casals F, Zheng H, Dall’Olio GM, Pybus M, Netea MG, Comas D, Laayouni H, Li Q, Majumder PP, Bertranpetit J (2016). Genomic analysis of the Andamanese provides new insights into the spread of humans in Asia and their local adaptations. Nature Genetics [Epub ahead of print].