What can DNA from the skeleton of a man who lived 2,330 years ago in the southernmost tip of Africa tell us about ourselves as humans? A great deal when his DNA profile is one of the ‘earliest diverged’ – oldest in genetic terms – found to-date in a region where modern humans are believed to have originated roughly 200,000 years ago.
The man’s maternal DNA, or ‘mitochondrial DNA’, was sequenced to provide clues to early modern human prehistory and evolution. Mitochondrial DNA provided the first evidence that we all come from Africa, and helps us map a figurative genetic tree, all branches deriving from a common ‘Mitochondrial Eve’.
When archaeologist Professor Andrew Smith from the University of Cape Town discovered the skeleton at St. Helena Bay in 2010, very close to the site where 117,000 year old human footprints had been found – dubbed “Eve’s footprints” – he contacted Professor Vanessa Hayes, a world-renowned expert in African genomes. Read more.
Technical objections to the idea that Neanderthals interbred with the ancestors of Eurasians have been overcome, thanks to a genome analysis method described in the April 2014 issue of the journal Genetics. The technique can more confidently detect the genetic signatures of interbreeding than previous approaches and will be useful for evolutionary studies of other ancient or rare DNA samples.
"Our approach can distinguish between two subtly different scenarios that could explain the genetic similarities shared by Neanderthals and modern humans from Europe and Asia," said study co-author Konrad Lohse, a population geneticist at the University of Edinburgh.
The first scenario is that Neanderthals occasionally interbred with modern humans after they migrated out of Africa. The alternative scenario is that the humans who left Africa evolved from the same ancestral subpopulation that had previously given rise to the Neanderthals. Read more.
King Richard III has been dead for more than 500 years, but his bones continue to ignite fresh controversy.
The medieval king, unearthed from a Leicester parking lot in 2012, has been the center of debate over where and how his body should be reburied. Now, a plan to sequence the full genome of Richard III has brought new strife.
"Why is the University of Leicester doing this, and why is it doing it without any consultation?" said John Ashdown-Hill, a historian involved with the search for the bones. The DNA testing will add very little to scientific knowledge, and [it] breaks agreements with Buckingham Palace made before the University got involved in the Richard III search, Ashdown-Hill told Live Science. Read more.
British scientists on Tuesday announced plans to create the complete genome sequence of infamous British king Richard III after his remains were found under a car park in 2012.
Geneticist Turi King will lead the £100,000 project ($164,000, 120,000 euros) to produce the first genome sequence from ancient DNA for a named historical figure, the project’s co-funders the Wellcome Trust and the Leverhulme Trust said in a statement.
"It is an extremely rare occurrence that archaeologists are involved in the excavation of a known individual, let alone a king of England," said King. Read more.
A deadly cholera outbreak gripped Philadelphia and other metropolises along the Eastern seaboard in early 1849, the second in 20 years. About 1,000 of the city’s residents died as result of infection with the water-borne pathogen that year, a figure that might have been considerably higher were it not for a programme to wash the city’s filthy streets with clean reservoir water. Now DNA isolated from the preserved 165-year-old intestine of a victim has yielded a complete genome sequence of the bacterium responsible — the first from a nineteenth-century strain of Vibrio cholerae.
The genome shows that most cholera strains in circulation today, known as El Tor, are genetically distinct from the ‘classical’ cholera that plagued European and North American cities in the nineteenth century, and was responsible for the 1849 outbreak in Philadelphia. (It would be five more years before the British physician John Snow showed that London’s cholera was caused by water contaminated with faecal matter.) Read more.
Data obtained from a Neanderthal woman’s toe bone points to incest and inbreeding among early humans, an international genetics team reported on Wednesday.
The fossil’s genetic map, or genome, reported from Denisova cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains dates to more than 50,000 years ago. The cave was home at separate times to both Neanderthals and the so-called Denisovans, two sister families of now-extinct early humans.
Adding to increasing evidence of a tangled human family tree, the new Neanderthal genome study released by the journal Nature also suggests that another previously unknown archaic human species shared its genes with some of our ancestors. The study authors suggest that it was Homo erectus, one of the earliest human species, which first arose around 1.8 million years ago. Read more.
New genome sequences from two extinct human relatives suggest that these ‘archaic’ groups bred with humans and with each other more extensively than was previously known.
The ancient genomes, one from a Neanderthal and one from a different archaic human group, the Denisovans, were presented on 18 November at a meeting at the Royal Society in London. They suggest that interbreeding went on between the members of several ancient human-like groups living in Europe and Asia more than 30,000 years ago, including an as-yet unknown human ancestor from Asia.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work. Read more.
The genome of a recently discovered branch of extinct humans known as the Denisovans that once interbred with us has been sequenced, scientists said today.
Genetic analysis of the fossil revealed it apparently belonged to a little girl with dark skin, brown hair and brown eyes, researchers said. All in all, the scientists discovered about 100,000 recent changes in our genome that occurred after the split from the Denisovans. A number of these changes influence genes linked with brain function and nervous system development, leading to speculation that we may think differently from the Denisovans. Other changes are linked with the skin, eyes and teeth.
"This research will help [in] determining how it was that modern human populations came to expand dramatically in size as well as cultural complexity, while archaic humans eventually dwindled in numbers and became physically extinct," said researcher Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Read more.