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Predictions, predictions: What will the genome sequence of a million-year-old hominin show?


It’s that time of year.

According to a recent article in New Scientist, the oldest DNA so far sequenced is a 700,000-year-old fossil horse. Science writer Michael Marshall hopes for a million-year-old hominin, sequenced in 2014. He better have been a really good boy all year, right, right? But undeterred, he writes:

Until recently, getting a million-year-old hominin genome looked tricky: DNA is preserved best in chilly climates, and people mainly lived in the tropics. All that changed this month, with the publication of a 400,000-year-old mitochondrial genome sequenced from the remains of an early human found in a cave in Spain. DNA can be preserved in hot climates if the conditions are right, says geneticist David Reich of Harvard Medical School.

The 400 thousand-year-old DNA Marshall mentions, reported in 2013, was yet another upset of the circus wagon of theories around human evolution: Human groups apparently did not diverse in straight lines over time, as was supposed. And so far, the mystery ancestor hasn’t turned up.

The just-published DNA results have been described as baffling (Nature, ScienceDaily) perplexing (BBC) 400k-year-old human DNA, that is hard to make sense of  (The Scientist, New Scientist) and creating new mysteries (New York Times) instead of neatly clarifying human evolution.

In other words, the impact threw all the conflicting dogmatisms of current study of human evolution under the overturned cart.

Now, readers, what do you expect a million-year-old hominin sequence to show?


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