The desire to understand where human beings came from and from whom we evolved is a curiosity shared among many. Until recently, what we knew about our predecessors came solely from archaeological findings and the fossil record. However, new breakthroughs in DNA technology and analysis has allowed us to come even closer to understanding our ancestors, and their relationship to us, on the molecular level.
According to the article “Entire Genome of Extinct Human Decoded from Fossil” on Biology News Net, last week on February 8th, Dr. Svante Paabo and his colleagues - the Leipzig team - made the entire genomic sequence of our closest extinct relatives, Denisovans, available on the internet for use by the scientific community. This sequence, which was originally drafted in 2010, came from just a tiny fragment of bone from a human finger that was uncovered in a cave in southern Siberia. Using DNA extracted from less than 10mg of the finger bone, the sequence was drafted using techniques that produced results sufficient enough to confirm the close relationship of the Denisovans to Neanderthals and us, but was insufficient in further research that required more specifics.
According to Dr. Matthias Meyer, the developer of the new techniques that provide more accurate sequencing, the updated, completed sequence “is of very high quality” with “fewer errors than most genomes from present-day humans that have been determined to date.” This new, higher resolution is due to the ability of the new methods to sequence every position in the genome 30 times, as compared to just twice with the first draft.
What does this mean? That scientists will now be able to use the sequence to research the evolution of specific parts of our genome, with hopes of discovering the genetic changes that allowed humans to spread so rapidly around the globe and develop our modern human culture.
The finger bone was found at an archaeological dig site in a layer believed to be between 50,000 and 30,000 years old. Now, not only can we speculate about the way of life of our ancestors that lived at this time, but we can use these archaeological findings to actually figure what was going on at the genetic level with these ancient humans. With each breakthrough such as this, we come closer to understanding how we evolved, and the information this provides us will hopefully help satiate our curiosity about our ancestors.
Posted by Laura Moro (2)