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Ancient Human Genomes Reveal Complicated Split Into Europeans and Asians

Isolated human populations could never really stay apart.

Research on the genes of ancient humans is speedily growing in scope, revealing insights into what it means to be a living human thousands of years after Homo sapiens became the only living hominins. We may have outlived our hominin relatives, like the Neanderthals and Denisovans, but that’s not to say our evolution became vastly simplified once they were out of the picture. As our ancestors spread throughout the planet and grew more isolated from each other, different populations came to have distinct sets of genes, leading to the differences we see in people around the globe today.

But the story is far from straightforward. A new analysis of different ancient DNA studies published Thursday in Trends in Genetics reveals that the genes of ancient humans who lived in Eurasia between 45,000 to 7,500 years ago are more complicated than previously realized. Not only does the analysis, carried out by researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, show that Europeans and Asians were far from distinct; it also shows that there were at least two periods of time where there was major inbreeding between Neanderthals and humans: one event 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, and another more than 37,000 years ago.

“With large present-day genomic datasets and increased international collaboration to handle the many newly sequenced ancient datasets, there is huge potential to understand the biology of human prehistory in a way that has never been accessible before,” co-author and geneticist Qiaomei Fu, Ph.D., explained in a statement released Thursday.

Schematic mapping of ancient population dynamics in Eurasia.

Fu and co-author Melinda Yang, Ph.D., reached their conclusions by summarizing previous research on 20 ancient humans belonging to the Eurasian family tree. Comparing the DNA sequences of these individuals revealed that, between 15,000 to 34,000 years ago, the humans living in Eurasia had genetic profiles similar to either Europeans or Asians — that is, they had become distinct. This hinted to Fu and Yang that a genetic separation between Asians and Europeans likely happened well before that, around 40,000 years ago.

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But in younger Eurasian fossils, those from around 7,500 to 14,000 years ago, the genetic gap appeared to have shrunk again, showing humans with genetic similarities to both Asians and Europeans. This suggests that, during this time, the once-distinct Asian and European populations had interacted once again, thereby complicating the genetic history of these groups.

Further adding to the genetic confusion were the Neanderthals, who ancient humans insisted on hooking up with. While today approximately two percent of modern humans from non-African populations still have Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, the researchers found that Neanderthal ancestry as a whole began to decline in Europe only around 14,000 to 37,000 years ago. That decline is reflected in populations today. Now, East Asians show more Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans do, with approximately 2.3 to 2.6 percent of the population containing Neanderthal DNA, compared to the 1.8 to 2.4 percent of Europeans who have the same. Some European populations have also been found to have genomes belonging to another ancestral group that split away from non-African populations early on, known as the “Basal Europeans.”

One ancient human, in particular, illustrates how dynamic populations were Eurasian thousands of years ago, and adds some light to how the split into current genetic groups happened. The Ust’-Ishim man is the name given to the 45,000-year-old remains found of a being who once lived in western Siberia. He lived when Neanderthals were still roaming around Eurasia, and like modern humans, he was a human who shared Neanderthal DNA. But his amount of Neanderthal genetics was much larger: His Neanderthal genome is 1.8 to 4.2 times longer than those found in present populations.

The femur of the Ust'Ishim man

Wang and Fu write that they next hope to extend their analysis to other ancient human populations, including people who lived in Oceania, Africa, and the Americas. These regions have been neglected in studying human prehistory, despite the fact that the ancient DNA found here will help resolve questions about human migration and evolution as well. Ancient DNA, they write, will help unravel history, and there are more “correlations between biology and culture to be explored.”

Astronomers Reveal 3 Things the Historic Black Hole Photo Confirms About Space 

"It’s reassuring and it’s gratifying to see that what we expected is indeed there."

The first-ever photo of a black hole was released on Wednesday, giving a physical form to an astronomical phenomenon that had previously only been hypothesized. Imaging a black hole for the first time was a major accomplishment — and an emotionally moving one for the scientists involved — but perhaps the most important part of this discovery isn’t what it revealed but what it confirmed.

Scientists Finally Figured Out How to Travel Faster Than the Speed of Light

By Gaurav Khanna, The Conversation

One of the most cherished science fiction scenarios is using a black hole as a portal to another dimension or time or universe. That fantasy may be closer to reality than previously imagined.

Black holes are perhaps the most mysterious objects in the universe. They are the consequence of gravity crushing a dying star without limit, leading to the formation of a true singularity — which happens when an entire star gets compressed down to a single point yielding an object with infinite density. This dense and hot singularity punches a hole in the fabric of spacetime itself, possibly opening up an opportunity for hyperspace travel. That is, a short cut through spacetime allowing for travel over cosmic scale distances in a short period.

A New Species of Ancient Human Was Discovered in a Cave in the Philippines

Meet Homo luzonensis, named for the island of Luzon. 

Near the northernmost tip of the Philippines is a deep, seven-chambered limestone cavern known as Callao Cave. In 2007, archaeologists digging in its chambers found a small finger bone — which, at 67,000 years old, was deemed the earliest evidence of a human presence in the archipelago. But for years, nobody was sure what kind of human it belonged to. Now, new bones and teeth found within the cave reveal an unexpected result: All of the artifacts belong to a new species of human known as Homo luzonensis.

This Is Your Brain on Porn

Casual porn watching changes the brain a lot more than you'd think.

Porn watching, as a hobby, has risen to record popularity. But scientists are still trying to figure out what watching all that porn actually does to users — and to society at large. There are, however, a few things we do know.

The moment a person looks at an erotic image, the reward system in their brain switches on. This circuit includes the ventral striatum and orbitofrontal cortex, both of which help elicit the good feelings you get when you do something good. And while there are a handful of other brain areas associated with the experience of viewing pornography — which we’ll explore in a moment — they’re all involved in a pretty similar way. As people’s brains reward them for watching porn, their brains learn, over time, that porn is a reliable way to seek good feelings.

The Real Story Behind Roanoke Is Creepier Than 'AHS'

The lost colony has somehow become even more scientifically confusing and frustrating over time.

American Horror Story isn’t known for being the type of television show that’s conservative or Puritanical in any way — it’s gory, twisted, and turns every television standby on its head. Which makes the show’s choice for the lost colony of Roanoke a perfect throwback, a true American horror story that is inexplicable and frighteningly weird.