Artificial Intelligence Study of Human Genome Finds Unknown Human Ancestor

The genetic footprint of a “ghost population” may match that of a Neanderthal and Denisovan hybrid fossil found in Siberia

By Brian Handwerk, smithsonian.com, February 8, 2019

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/artificial- intelligence-study-human-genome-finds-unknown-human- ancestor-species-180971436/

Artificial Intelligence Study of Human Genome Finds Unknown HUman Ancestor

The complicated tree of human evolution could include extinct species that have not yet been discovered. (Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program)

 

Can the minds of machines teach us something new about what it means to be human? When it comes to the intricate story of our species’ complex origins and evolution, it appears that they can.

A recent study used machine learning technology to analyze eight leading models of human origins and evolution, and the program identified evidence in the human genome of a “ghost population” of human ancestors. The analysis suggests that a previously unknown and long-extinct group of hominins interbred with Homo sapiens in Asia and Oceania somewhere along the long, winding road of human evolutionary history, leaving behind only fragmented traces in modern human DNA.

The study, published in Nature Communications, is one of the first examples of how machine learning can help reveal clues to our own origins. By poring through vast amounts of genomic data left behind in fossilized bones and comparing it with DNA in modern humans, scientists can begin to fill in some of the gaps of our species’ evolutionary history.

In this case, the results seem to match paleoanthropology theories that were developed from studying human ancestor fossils found in the ground. The new data suggest that the mysterious hominin was likely descended from an admixture of Neanderthals and Denisovans (who were only identified as a unique species on the human family tree in 2010https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-08089). Such a species in our evolutionary past would look a lot like the fossil of a 90,000-year-old teenage girl from Siberia’s Denisova cave. Her remains were described last summer as the only known example of a first-generation hybrid between the two species, (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/08/news- denisovan-neanderthal-hominin-hybrid-ancient-human/) with a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

“It’s exactly the kind of individual we expect to find at the origin of this population, however this should not be just a single individual but a whole population,” says study co-author Jaume Bertranpetit, an evolutionary biologist at Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University.

The ability of early humans to adjust to changing conditions ultimately enabled the earliest species of Homo to vary, survive and begin spreading from Africa to Eurasia 1.85 million years ago. (Image courtesy of Antón, Potts and Aiello (2014), Science 345(6192)) Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/artificial-intelligence-study-human-genome-finds-unknown-human-ancestor-species-180971436/#KSYJrrAdj7ToVwti.99 Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

The ability of early humans to adjust to changing conditions ultimately enabled the earliest species of Homo to vary, survive and begin spreading from Africa to Eurasia 1.85 million years ago. (Image courtesy of Antón, Potts and Aiello (2014), Science 345(6192))

The ability of early humans to adjust to changing conditions ultimately enabled the earliest species of Homo to vary, survive and begin spreading from Africa to Eurasia 1.85 million years ago.

“OR, per The Urantia Book and other channeled information, in the opposite direction…”

~ Don Chapin

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