Genome of a 40,000-year-old man in China reveals region's complex human history

By Brooks Hays  |  Oct. 16, 2017 at 7:55 AM
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Oct. 16 (UPI) -- As genomic analysis technology advances, and as new genetic samples are surveyed, the human story grows ever more complicated.

Now, yet another complex human history has been revealed by the genetic remains of a 40,000-year-old man from China. The man's DNA -- recovered from remains in Tianyuan Cave near Beijing -- was so well-preserved that it allowed scientists to sequence the full human genome.

Scientists have sequenced the genomes of ancient humans in Europe and Siberia, uncovering complex migrational histories. But the history of human movement throughout East Asia remains less understood.

The Tianyuan man's genome was first sequenced in 2013, but was sequenced again more recently -- and more comprehensively -- using new genomic analysis techniques. The new analysis confirms that Tianyuan man is most closely related to modern Asians, and that modern Asians are more closely related to Tianyuan man than modern and ancient Europeans -- evidence that human history in East Asia is indeed ancient, extending back at least 40,000 years.

Perhaps more surprisingly, researchers found significant genomic similarities between the Tianyuan man and GoyetQ116-1, an ancient human discovered in Belgium. The discovery suggest the two share ancestry from a sub-population living in Eurasia prior to the European-Asian separation.

What's more, the new study -- published in the journal Current Biology -- revealed a genetic link between Tianyuan man and ancient South American populations

The revelation confirms previous studies that suggested the migration of South Asian peoples -- including Melanesian Papuan and the Andamanese Onge -- to South America some 20,000 years ago featured lineages tracing back to mainland Asia. Now, scientists can confirm those lineages trace back 40,000 years.

"Our study of the Tianyuan individual highlights the complex migration and subdivision of early human populations in Eurasia," researchers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences wrote.

These migrations and subdivisions are only just now being highlighted by modern genomic science, and there are many more discoveries to be made.

"There are many unanswered questions about the past populations of Asia, and ancient DNA will be the key solving those questions," researchers concluded.

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