As it turns out, the Out of Africa walk our human ancestors took left behind not one, not two, but three ex-fiancés in the process—the third of which represents a species science has never seen before.
This so-called “Ghost Ancestor” is the focus of a new dimension of early hominid research, created using the help of artificial intelligence and the fibula of a 13-year old girl who lived 50,000 years ago whose mom was a Denisovan and whose dad was a Neanderthal.
Using a deep learning algorithm called Bayesian Inference, geneticists were able to parse out that present in the large cross-continental variety of the human genome—derived from multiple gene projects—was an early ancestor from a lineage that is totally different from anything we’ve seen before. It indicated that the puzzle of human evolution is far from being solved.
“About 80,000 years ago, the so-called Out of Africa occurred, when part of the human population, which already consisted of modern humans, abandoned the African continent and migrated to other continents, giving rise to all the current populations,” said Jaume Bertranpetit from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, who later added that we know homo sapiens interbred with both Denisovans and Neanderthals.
“As it happens, if you subtract the Neanderthal and Denisovan parts, there is still something in the genome that is highly divergent,” she said.
“This population is either related to the Neanderthal-Denisova clade or diverged early from the Denisova lineage,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published in Nature, adding that it was probably a descendant mixture of the two that had a long independent history.
A Harvard geneticist, David Reich, described the 2018 paper of the 13-year-old teenager as a breakthrough, and that it represented a definite third inter-breeding event which happened at some point in South Asia.
The remains of the teen girl from over 50,000 years ago “with strange uniqueness” that seemed to be a ‘hybrid’ ancestor was a clue to mating dalliances on the road out of the African continent millennia ago.
It is the first time that deep learning has been used successfully to explain human history, paving the way for this technology to be applied in other questions in biology, genomics, and evolution.
Reich added that he would not be surprised to see more ghost ancestors show up in future studies.
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