Science  /  Discovery

Largest Human Family Tree Identifies Nearly 27 Million Ancestors

Researchers create massive genealogical network dating back 100,000 years

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Animated family tree.

Wohns et al. Science (2022)

“We have a single genealogy that traces the ancestry of all of humanity and shows how we’re all related to each other today,” Anthony Wilder Wohns, leader of a new study published in the journal Science, tells CNN.

Wohns, a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., states the study uses ancient genomes from samples dating from more than 100,000 years ago.

“We can then estimate when and where these ancestors lived,” he says in a statement. “The power of our approach is that it makes very few assumptions about the underlying data and can also include both modern and ancient DNA samples.”

Scientists at the Big Data Institute of University of Oxford developed the algorithms needed to process the huge amount of data involved with this research, reports CNN.

“This study is laying the groundwork for the next generation of DNA sequencing,” says Yan Wong, one of the study's principal authors and an evolutionary geneticist at the institute, in the statement. “As the quality of genome sequences from modern and ancient DNA samples improves, the trees will become even more accurate and we will eventually be able to generate a single, unified map that explains the descent of all the human genetic variation we see today.”

Per Will Dunham of Reuters, the research study helps show the scope of human genetic diversity and establishes how people around the world are related to each other. Researchers have confirmed that the human species started in Africa before migrating to other parts of the globe.

“The very earliest ancestors we identify trace back in time to a geographic location that is in modern Sudan,” Wohn tells Reuters. “These ancestors lived up to and over 1 million years ago—which is much older than current estimates for the age of Homo sapiens—250,000 to 300,000 years ago. So bits of our genome have been inherited from individuals who we wouldn’t recognize as modern humans.”