DNA sequencing reveals that mating event took place around 100,000 years ago, long before the migration "out of Africa." Modern human ancestors spread to Europe and Asia around 60,000 years ago.
Researchers have found strong evidence suggesting that modern humans and their extinct cousins Neanderthals interbred much earlier than previously thought.
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By sequencing ancient DNA, researchers have found that a crossbreeding event took place around 100,000 years ago, which is more than 50,000 years earlier than what had been assumed. The finding also sheds more light into the migration patterns of humans since it suggests that a small population of modern humans already interacted with other extinct species before the migration “out of Africa.”
“It's been known for several years, following the first sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, that Neanderthals and humans must have interbred," said Professor Adam Siepel, co-researcher and a biologist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “But the data so far refers to an event dating to around 47,000-65,000 years ago, around the time that human populations emigrated from Africa. The event we found appears considerably older than that event.”
Researchers have used various advanced methods for analyzing DNA and compared complete genomes of hundreds of modern humans with old and extinct members of the human family.
People living in Europe, Asia and the combined landmass of Europe and Asia today have fragments of Neanderthal genome in their DNA. In other words, the children who were born as a result of Neanderthal and modern human mating were raised among modern humans and bred with other humans. That’s why fragments of Neanderthal genome are found in human DNA.
Modern Africans, however, do not have the traces of Neanderthal DNA in their genomes which reflects that interbreeding event occurred between Neanderthals and only those humans who left the continent of Africa.
“We don't know what happened to them. It seems likely that this population went extinct, either by environmental changes or maybe direct competition with Neanderthals,” said Martin Kuhlwilm, co-author of the study.
“This seems to have happened during a much earlier migration out of Africa than previously thought. It implies that modern humans left Africa in several waves, some of which probably went extinct.”
Interbreeding between Neanderthal and earlier humans had a lasting impact on human genetics and many of human traits and characteristics thought to be linked to this extinct species of human.
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