Study Offers New Twist in How the First Humans Evolved

Human DNA also points to Africa. Living Africans have a vast amount of genetic diversity compared with other people. That’s because humans lived and evolved in Africa for thousands of generations before small groups — with comparatively small gene pools — began expanding to other continents.

Within the vast expanse of Africa, researchers have proposed various places as the birthplace of our species. Early humanlike fossils in Ethiopia led some researchers to look to East Africa. But some living groups of people in South Africa appeared to be very distantly related to other Africans, suggesting that humans might have a deep history there instead.

Brenna Henn, a geneticist at the University of California, Davis, and her colleagues developed software to run large-scale simulations of human history. The researchers created many scenarios of different populations existing in Africa over different periods of time and then observed which ones could produce the diversity of DNA found in people alive today.

“We could ask what types of models are really plausible for the African continent,” Dr. Henn said.

The researchers analyzed DNA from a range of African groups, including the Mende, farmers who live in Sierra Leone in West Africa; the Gumuz, a group descended from hunter-gatherers in Ethiopia; the Amhara, a group of Ethiopian farmers; and the Nama, a group of hunter-gatherers in South Africa.

The researchers compared these Africans’ DNA with the genome of a person from Britain. They also looked at the genome of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal found in Croatia. Previous research had found that modern humans and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor that lived 600,000 years ago. Neanderthals expanded across Europe and Asia, interbred with modern humans coming out of Africa, and then became extinct about 40,000 years ago.

What Next?

Recent Articles

Leave a Reply

You must be Logged in to post comment.