Researchers from the University of Oxford's Big Data Institute combined both ancient and modern DNA to gain a better understanding of human history and evolution.
large old oak tree lots of branches
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If you've ever made a family tree, there's a good chance you were able to track your lineage across several generations and at least a hundred years. While that might seem interesting enough, imagine if you were able to find out exactly where your distant relatives were up to 100,000 years ago. Thanks to scientists from the University of Oxford's Big Data Institute, who used genetics to create the largest human family tree ever made, that may be a possibility. The new research allows individuals to find out who their distant ancestors are, where they lived, and how they're related to everyone today, CNN reports.

The researchers combined human genomes from both ancient and modern DNA to gain a better understanding of human history and evolution. To create the family tree, researchers sequenced the genes of 3,609 people from 215 populations, with some dating back to 100,000 years ago. The research makes it possible to shows which genes are shared between two people, meaning that anyone who has access to their own genetic information can figure out when their ancestors moved to a particular place and why they have certain genes. "Simply put, what we did was we created the largest human family tree ever," says lead study author Anthony Wilder Wohns. "We have a single genealogy that traces the ancestry of all of humanity, and shows how we're all related to each other today."

While human genetic research has rapidly developed in recent decades, scientists have struggled when it comes to developing ways to handle such a large amount of data and combine ancient and modern genomes. The team at Oxford has created algorithms that make it possible to combine genomes into the tool. This allowed the researchers to create what they call a "human gene genealogy," which Wohns told CNN has been theorized about for 30 years.

The research has confirmed existing beliefs about human history, like the idea that most human evolution took place in Africa around 70,000 years ago. Although Wohns says the data is "confirmatory in many ways," it also raises a few questions. For example, it suggests that unknown migrations happened in the past, including evidence hinting that human ancestors were in North America earlier than we previously thought. To achieve total accuracy, Wohns says further research is needed and adding more genomes will help do this. "It's going to be a really rich resource for future investigation into human evolutionary history," he says.


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