All in the Family

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Scientists constructed the largest ever human family tree to provide a glimpse of humanity’s genetic history going back two million years, New Scientist reported.

In their study, a research team compiled more than 3,600 complete genomes, the majority belonging to our species, Homo sapiens, as well as three from Neanderthals and one Denisovan.

The extensive family tree took about two decades to construct and includes more than 6.4 million DNA variants.

Among their findings, the tree suggests that humanity’s earliest roots were in northeastern Africa: DNA variants that appeared 72,000 years ago were most prevalent in that region, with the oldest found in what is now Sudan.

The oldest variants were around two million years old and might have belonged to the earliest member of the Homo genus – not specifically H. sapiens, because they emerged around 300,000 years ago.

The genealogical tree also showed that certain human migrations happened earlier than previously believed, for example, that people lived in Papua New Guinea nearly 100,000 years before the earliest documented inhabitants.

Another instance is the migration to the Americas: The new study posits that people were first on the continent 56,000 years ago, instead of 18,000 years ago as thought earlier.

The authors acknowledged that more research and evidence are required to confirm their findings but added that the study indicates that all humans are “ultimately related to each other.”

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