“World’s largest family tree links 27 million people”


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Researchers at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute have created the largest family tree ever, linking more than 27 million people – living and long dead – across the world

This is an important milestone in the journey towards mapping all human genetic relationships, according to a pioneering study, published in Science

The family tree helps us know more about where and when our human ancestors lived — namely in Africa — the researchers said

“Essentially we’ve built a giant family tree, a genealogy for all of humanity, that models as accurately as we can the history that produced all the genetic variation we find in humans today,” co-author Yan Wong, an evolutionary geneticist at the institute, said in a statement

“This genealogy allows us to see how each person’s genetic sequence relates to each other, along all points of the genome “

In layman’s terms, the comprehensive tree, which appeared as a research paper and video, depicts how people around the world are interconnected, like an all-encompassing 23andMe

However, through the new method outlined in the study, researchers can easily match data from multiple sources and incorporate millions of genetic sequences

“Basically, we are reconstructing the genomes of our ancestors and using them to form a vast network of relationships,” explained lead author Anthony Wilder Wohns, who undertook the research as part of his PhD in the BDI

“We can then estimate when and where these ancestors lived “

He added, “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 “

“While humans are the focus of this study, the method is valid for most living things, from orangutans to bacteria,” explained author Anthony Wilder WohnsCourtesy of Science

Specifically, the study mixed and matched data from modern and ancient human genomes from eight different databases, spanning a total of 3,609 individual genome sequences from 215 populations worldwide

The ancient genomes ranged in age from 1,000 to over 100,000, while “the resulting network contained nearly 27 million ancestors “

According to the study, the algorithms “predicted where common ancestors must be present in the evolutionary trees to explain patterns of genetic variation “

The map also used location data, allowing scientists to estimate where the common ancestor had lived, and included seminal evolutionary events such as our migration out of Africa, according to the study

The earliest ancestors included in the map are an extinct species of human that predates Homo sapiens

They lived a million years ago in a region estimated to be modern Sudan

While impressive, the unprecedented family tree is only the foundation “for the next generation of DNA sequencing,” Wong said

Genome scientists are currently working on making the blueprint even more comprehensive by “continuing to incorporate genetic data as it becomes available “

“As the quality of genome sequences from modern and ancient DNA samples improves, the trees will become even more accurate, and eventually we will be able to produce a single unified map that explains the descent of all the human genetic variation we see today ,” Wong said

“While humans are the focus of this study, the method is valid for most living things, from orangutans to bacteria,” Wohns explained

In a similar, more pressing study from 2020, scientists at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene analyzed the genetic material of the coronavirus to try to predict the origins of future outbreaks

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