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Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

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Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Postby Helix » Thu Dec 05, 2013 8:14 pm

"...piecing the fossil DNA together is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle created by a sadist."

It's by Carl Zimmer, so you know it's not full of sensationalist nonsense.

Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Scientists have found the oldest DNA evidence yet of humans’ biological history. But instead of neatly clarifying human evolution, the finding is adding new mysteries.

In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.

The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.

The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.

“Right now, we’ve basically generated a big question mark,” said Matthias Meyer, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and a co-author of the new study.


Lots more at the link.
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Re: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Postby Teleost » Thu Dec 05, 2013 8:49 pm

Ancient DNA. Hmmmmmmm.

I haven't read the article yet, but my first thought is about just how robust sequencing something that old could be.
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Re: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Postby Helix » Thu Dec 05, 2013 9:08 pm

Teleost wrote:Ancient DNA. Hmmmmmmm.

I haven't read the article yet, but my first thought is about just how robust sequencing something that old could be.



Perhaps reading the article might help?
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Re: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Postby Helix » Thu Dec 05, 2013 10:10 pm

While we're on ancient DNA, this earlier paper in Nature has a full Equus genome sequence from between 560 and 780 kyrBP. There's an article about it in National Geographic.
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Re: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins

Postby Milieu intérieur » Fri Dec 06, 2013 12:33 am

It is interesting, more fits with what some were speculating way back as recall.
The tendency to interpret the sparse and fading evidence to be something more than it probably is - when limited to physical evidence.
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