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‘Ghost population’ of ancient humans may have mated with ancestors of modern humans

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Ancestors of people living in what is today West Africa may have reproduced with a species of ancient humans unknown to scientists, new research suggests.

Scientists know Europeans mated with Neanderthals and people in Oceania with Denisovans, but a new study published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances found that genetic variation within West African populations is best explained by the presence of a new ancient human species altogether.

With difficulties in obtaining a full fossil records and ancient DNA, scientists’ understanding of the genetic diversity within West African populations has been poor. To get a fuller picture, researchers at University of California, Los Angeles compared 405 genomes of West Africans with Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes.

Sriram Sankararaman, one of the study’s authors, told NPR that the researchers used statistical modeling to figure out which parts of the DNA they were analyzing did not come from modern humans, then compare those to the two ancient hominin species. What they found is the presence of DNA from “an archaic ghost population” in modern West African populations’ genetic ancestry.