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Lauren Admire | 26 Apr 2010 21:00

Human Ancestors Bred With the GEICO Cavemen

A new study of the genes of nearly 2000 people shows that our ancestors may have interbred with other species of humans, possibly with the likes of our favorite GEICO Neanderthal cavemen.

"It means Neanderthals didn't completely disappear," states Jeffrey Long, a genetic anthropologist at the University of New Mexico. "There is a little bit of Neanderthal leftover in almost all humans." It was previously believed that Neanderthals and the Homo genus had never interbred, and that the Neanderthal line had died out while the modern human line flourished.

Scientists tracked over 600 microsatellites, which are like genetic fingerprints, in 1,983 individuals in 99 distinct populations in Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Doctoral student, Sarah Joyce, used the results to create an odd genetic tree that could only be explained if ancient humans had mated with other humans species, such as Homo neanderthalensis and Homo heidelbergensis. Using SCIENCE! (and statistical projections), researchers found that ancient humans likely bred with archaic species two different times, once about 60,000 years in the Mediterranean, and again in eastern Asia about 45,000 years ago. Both events occurred after the first Homo sapiens had migrated out of Africa.

Their findings were announced at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and attending researchers agreed that such interbreeding would explain variations found in the human genome. "This information is really helpful," states Linda Vigilant, an anthropologist at the Planck Institute. "And it's cool." Well said, Vigilant.

Could this explain the recent finding of Woman X , the latest fossil of a human whose mitochondrial DNA shows that she canoodled with both Neanderthals and modern human species?

Source: New Scientist


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