Just 7% of our DNA is unique to modern humans, study shows

Just 7% of our DNA is unique to modern humans, study shows

Washington: What makes humans special? Scientists have taken another step toward solving an enduring mystery with a new tool that could allow a more accurate comparison between the DNA of modern humans and our extinct ancestors.
Just 7% of our genome is uniquely shared with other humans, and not shared by other early ancestors, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.
“It’s a very small percentage,” said Nathan Schaefer, a computational biologist at the University of California and co-author of the new paper. “Discoveries like this are the reason scientists are turning away from thinking that we humans are so different from Neanderthals.”
The research is based on DNA extracted from the fossilized remains of extinct Neanderthals and Denisovans from about 40,000 or 50,000 years ago, as well as 279 modern people from around the world.
Scientists already know that modern people share some DNA with Neanderthals, but different people share different parts of the genome. One goal of the new research was to identify genes that are specific to modern humans.
This is a difficult statistical problem, and researchers have developed “a valuable tool that takes into account missing data in ancient genomes,” said John Hawkes, a paleontologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not involved in the research. said.
The researchers also found that a small fraction of our genome – just 1.5% – is unique to our species and is shared among all people alive today. Those pieces of DNA may be the most important clues to what really sets modern humans apart.
“We can tell that those regions of the genome are highly enriched for genes that have to do with neural development and brain function,” said University of California, Santa Cruz computational biologist Richard Greene, a co-author of the paper.
In 2010, Green helped produce the first draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome. Four years later, geneticist Joshua Acke co-authored a paper showing that modern humans carry some remnants of Neanderthal DNA. Since then, scientists have continued to refine techniques to extract and analyze genetic material from fossils.
“Improved tools allow us to ask more detailed questions about human history and evolution,” said Acke, who is now at Princeton and was not involved in the new research. He praised the methodology of the new study.
However, Alan Templeton, a population geneticist at Washington University in St. Louis, questions the authors’ assumption that changes in the human genome are distributed randomly rather than cluster around certain hotspots within the genome.
The findings underscore “that we are indeed a very young species,” Acke said. “Not that long ago, we shared the planet with other human lineages.”

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