Thursday, May 18, 2006

New Findings in Human Evolution.

There is new information the examination of human evolution and how it relates to the divergence between us and chimpanzees. Reuters News excerpt:

LONDON (Reuters) - Humans' evolutionary split from their closest relatives, chimpanzees, may have been more complicated, taken longer and probably occurred more recently than previously thought, scientists said on Wednesday.

After comparing the genomes, or genetic codes, of the two species they suggest the initial split took place no more than 6.3 million years ago and probably less than 5.4 million years ago. The process of separation may have taken about 4 million years and there could have been some inter-breeding before the final break.

"The study gave unexpected results about how we separated from our closest relatives, the chimpanzees," said David Reich of the Broad Institute and Harvard Medical School's Department of Genetics in Massachusetts.

Instead of analyzing genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees, Reich and researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT looked at variations in the degree of divergence between the two in different regions of the genomes.

The analysis, published in the journal Nature, shows some regions in the human genome are older than others which means they trace back to different times in the common ancestral population of the two species.

This apparently means that the split wasn't a "clean" one, but rather that the two species, as they diverged, most likely continued to intermingle. That would have likely resulted in a fertile hybrid that has been long since lost in the shadows of time. This is a truly fascinating possibility, one that will likely rankle the minds of people like the one profiled in my previous post.

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