40,000-year-old DNA reveals origins of native Americans

Posted by Kate Taylor

Many present-day Asians and Native Americans are related to humans living some 40,000 years ago in the area near Beijing, an analysis of ancient DNA shows.

An international team of researchers sequenced nuclear and mitochondrial DNA extracted from the leg of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing. And, showed the analysis, this individual shared a common origin with the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans.

Humans with morphology similar to present-day humans appear in the fossil record across Eurasia between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago - but this is the first time that the genetic relationships between these early modern humans and present-day human populations has been established.

 "This individual lived during an important evolutionary transition when early modern humans, who shared certain features with earlier forms such as Neanderthals, were replacing Neanderthals and Denisovans, who later became extinct," says Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, who led the study.

The researchers also found that the proportion of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in this early modern human was no higher than in people living in this region nowadays.

The individual was related to the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans but had already diverged genetically from the ancestors of present-day Europeans.

"More analyses of additional early modern humans across Eurasia will further refine our understanding of when and how modern humans spread across Europe and Asia," says Pääbo.