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DNA of unknown human species found in Pacific Islanders

By Stephen Morgan     Oct 25, 2016 in Science
By analyzing the DNA of Pacific Islanders, scientists have discovered clear evidence for the existence of a new, previously unknown human species – a discovery which could change our understanding of human evolution.
It would certainly be quite strange to come home one day and say, "Hi darling. Guess what, I just met another species of human beings in the supermarket." In fact, it is often difficult to grasp the idea of there being different species of humans at all. We are so used to being the only, single type.
So one way to think about it is to look at other animals, for example, the horse family. In the Equidae family one finds horses, donkeys and zebras, and, in the past, there were many more species. The same is true of us. We weren't always alone. There were other types of us, although not necessarily with stripes.
Until quite recently, it was thought that there were only two humans species proceeding our own (Homo sapiens sapiens), which were homo sapiens and the Neanderthals. It was also believed that homo sapiens and Neanderthals lived a separate existence, in the sense that the two species never mated.
However, advances in scientific analysis blew this theory apart. We now know that the two got up to a bit of hanky-panky and, consequently, about 3 percent of the DNA of modern Europeans and Asians is Neanderthal in origin.
Representation of a neanderthal man.
Representation of a neanderthal man.
However, the anthropological community was then turned upside down again by the discovery of another, previously unknown human species in 2008 – the Denisovans – with whom we also had a fling. What was even more surprising was that modern humans, particularly Asians, carry more Denisovan DNA than Neanderthal – up to 5 percent, especially among Pacific Islanders, who live in the Melanesian islands of Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomans and Fiji.
Wiki: map of Melanesia
Wiki: map of Melanesia
WIKI: Tintazulderivative work: Cruickshanks
But now, following further analysis of the DNA of Pacific Islanders, scientists have discovered DNA markers of yet another mysterious human species, the archaeological remains of which have yet to be found. As IFL Science explains:
"When compared with those of people living in India," scientists "found whole sections of DNA that did not match any currently known human species, with it neither derived from Neanderthals, Denisovans, or us."
Just to make things a little more puzzling, the new DNA sequence in Melanesians isn't found among Europeans and Eastern Asians. This suggests that this fourth human species only lived in this region. As Earth Chronicles explains,
"These fragments are not detected by any modern Europeans or the inhabitants of the countries of the Far East, pointing out that the meeting and the interbreeding with the third kind of people could only happen somewhere in South Asia or the Pacific Islands or the Indian ocean."
One theory is that the missing species was Homo Erectus, "erect ape-man", which was an extremely primitive, small-brained human ancestor. Homo Erectus is thought to have been one of the first human species to have migrated out of Africa around two million years ago. Homo sapiens left Africa only 125,000 to 60,000 years ago. In other words, if that theory is true, then these primitive, Homo Erectus people must have been living in isolation in the Pacific Islands for about 1.9 million years or so.
However, there is still some controversy over H. Erectus because of insufficient numbers and quality of skeletons, which have been found. Therefore, this theory is far from certain and we may be dealing with another completely unknown species altogether.
An article in New Scientist explains that "Confirmation would require a match between ancient DNA from H. Erectus remains and DNA from current Australasian populations. Unfortunately, none of the H. Erectus fossils unearthed to date contain sufficient genomic data for this kind of comparison to be made." In regard to the theory, Jaume Bertranpetit at Pompeu Fabra University in Spain, simply said, “ we do not have any direct evidence.”
There is even a good possibility that the new DNA sequence found in Pacific Islanders may be a mix of not one but of a number of different, unknown human species. Commenting on this, Alan Cooper of the University of Adelaide, Australia, told New Scientist that, "I wouldn’t be surprised – Asia is a bit of a nightmare in terms of the number of different groups that were running around at the same time.”
The reality is that archaeological research in Europe and Asia has lagged way behind what has taken place in Africa. Ever since the "Out of Africa Theory" was accepted, the search for the origins and development of the human race has been centered there. In recent years, there has been an expansion of archaeological digs across Asia, particularly in Siberia and China, and, as the work expands, more anomalies are coming to light. This recent discovery shows that the history of human development is far more complex than we ever imagined.
More about Human, Species, New, Dna, Pacific Islanders