If you had to guess, how many ancestors would you say that you had? If you consider that homo sapiens, a.k.a humans, came into existence on this Earth around 200,000 years ago that’s a lot of ancestors to add up.
How many ancestors do you think you have?
Scientists from The University of Oxford recently published a paper in Science detailing how they answered this question. Through developing algorithms that combine information from numerous genomic sources, the team at Oxford’s Big Data Institute was able to do what has never been done before and mapped out the largest human family tree ever created.
“We have basically built a huge family tree, a genealogy for all of humanity that models as exactly as we can the history that generated all the genetic variation we find in humans today. This genealogy allows us to see how every person’s genetic sequence relates to each other, along all the points of the genome,” said Dr. Yan Wong, who works at the institute.
How did they do it?
Using comparative DNA analysis of both modern and ancient human genomes across 215 populations, the algorithm outputted a network connecting around 27 million ancestors. These results help us in modeling human migration across the world and the evolution of all organisms inhabiting this planet.
Wong continued: “While humans are the focus of this study, the method is valid for most living things, from orangutans to bacteria. It could be particularly beneficial in medical genetics, in separating true associations between genetic regions and diseases from spurious connections arising from our shared ancestral history.”
This interesting work was able to be carried out thanks to incredible advances in the genetic analysis made in the past 20 years. Whole-genome sequencing opened up a whole new world of comparative genomics and has allowed us to understand genetic diseases and evolution like never before.
Source study: Science – A unified genealogy of modern and ancient genomes