Massive genetic analysis shows how our ancestors ‘diversified, migrated and mixed’ around the world

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Credit: Kathleen Balan-Celino

A new study has provided the most comprehensive analysis of human genetic diversity to date, after the sequencing of 929 human genomes by scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Cambridge and their collaborators. The study uncovers a large amount of previously undescribed genetic variation and provides new insights into our evolutionary past, highlighting the complexity of the process through which our ancestors diversified, migrated and mixed throughout the world.

The team found millions of previously unknown DNA variations that are exclusive to one continental or major geographical region. Though most of these were rare, they included common variations in certain African and Oceanian populations that had not been identified by previous studies.

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The study also provides evidence that the Neanderthal ancestry of modern humans can be explained by just one major ‘mixing event’, most likely involving several Neanderthal individuals coming into contact with modern humans shortly after the latter had expanded out of Africa. In contrast, several different sets of DNA segments inherited from Denisovans were identified in people from Oceania and East Asia, suggesting at least two distinct mixing events.

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