Research Finds Some Africans Have Genes Of Ancient 'Ghost' Hominid

A new study suggests that an ancient population (still undiscovered in fossils) that is very human-like in nature were able to leave behind a genetic legacy that can still be seen in some modern-day West Africans.

Ghost Hominid

According to UCLA geneticists Arun Durvasula and Sriram Sankararaman, these extinct species of Homo sapiens were able to pass down their genes to the African ancestors of present-day Yoruba and Mende people starting around 24,000 years ago or later. As such, the surviving DNA of these ancient hominids is different enough from those of Neanderthals as well as the ancient Denisovans to suggest that they were, in fact, an entirely different hominid species, one that hasn’t been discovered before in fossil form.

Per the scientists report, which was published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, the genomes of the Yoruba and Mende groups contain around 2 to 19 percent of genetic material from this mysterious “ghost population,” which resulted in traits that include tumor suppression, hormone regulation and even influence their survival-enhancing functions. Per the investigators, these genes likely spread rapidly among a good number of the present-day West Africans.

But it’s not just West Africans who inherited some of the genes because Durvasula and Sankararaman found that DNA from Han Chinese in Beijing as well as Utah residents with northern and western European ancestry also showed some signs of what’s now being classified as an ancient “ghost” hominid. Unfortunately, these groups weren’t as extensively studied as those of individuals from the Yoruba and Mende group.

According to the researchers, their findings add evidence to the recent study that states various Homo species interbred with each other, leading to the evolution of modern-day Africans. For example, H. sapiens groups most likely interbred with Neanderthals from Europe after leaving Africa 60,000 to 80,000 years ago. Afterwards, they then took Neanderthal DNA back to Africa around 20,000 years ago.

“Although ancient humans trekking back to Africa already might have mated with members of the ancient ghost population, it is more likely that interbreeding happened in Africa,” Sankararaman said, pointing to African H. sapiens fossils showing Neanderthal traits.

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