New genetic analysis of archaic hominids binds us closely together

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An endogenous retrovirus or ERV is a genetic scar produced by a failed viral infection. Geneticists can tell its of viral origin because it will contain base pairs associated exclusively with viruses. If the ERV happens to insert in a portion of a cell genome that goes onto contribute to an egg or sperm that creates a new person, and if that same stretch of DNA containing the ERV is part if an allele that ultimately gets selected for widely, eventually the entire population will share it. If the population then splits over time, both descendant groups will have it in the same place. If you and a stranger have a unique ERV occupying the exact same segment in both your respective genomes, it is powerful evidence you are closely related.

Humans and chimps share a number of ERVs, which is more than just a smoking gun that we share a relatively recent common ancestor, it’s a video tape of evolution pulling the trigger. So it was with great interest that a new study comparing ERVs in anatomically modern humans to Neandertal DNA as well as poorly understood contemporary referred to as Denisovans has been released: [Read more...]

Isolated Antarctic lake full of life

800px-Lake_Vostok_drill_2011

Lake Vostok has been buried under two miles of ice for 15 million years, but scientists can now say life has found a way to persist and thrive there. Pristine samples from the lake were examined and found to contain genetic signatures for thousands of species. Some sequences suggest more complex animals like worms or even fish may be lurking in the pitch black, sub-glacial water. Scientists say this has ramifications far beyond Antarctica: [Read more...]