Does The World’s Largest Family Tree Reveal The Origins Of Humanity?

People love knowing more about where we come from, and the internet has obviously made it easier for anyone to dabble in genealogy – and for us to be able to track down lines that go back hundreds of years.

It makes sense, then, that anthropologists and historians, geologists and the like, could use the same types of software to build family trees that trace the origins of all humanity…and it’s pretty cool to see.

Unlike the family tree you’ve done yourself, which likely traces your family to all sorts of places of origins, every single human eventually traces back here: to a spot of desert in the northeast of Sudan.

Image Credit: Google Maps

It’s not far from the Nile river, and recent research from the Big Data Institute suggests it might be the homeland of every single person alive today.

Dr. Anthony Wilder Wohns, lead author of the published study, explained further.

“Essentially, we are reconstructing the genomes of our ancestors and using them to form a vast network of relationships. We can then estimate when and where these ancestors lived.”

Since the advent of online family trees and readily available DNA analysis became available, scientists have been working on ways to take it global.

Image Credit: Science.org

Now, evolutionary geneticist Dr. Yan Wong says it’s finally happened.

“We have basically built a huge family tree, a genealogy for all of humanity. This genealogy allows us to see how every person’s genetic sequence relates to every other, along all the points of the genome.”

They had to use data from eight different human genome databases to create their network of around 27 million ancestors, and used samples not just from modern humans, but our ancient relatives as well.

“The study models as exactly as we can the history that generated all the genetic variation we find in humans today.”

The resulting visual representation tracks the movement and migration of humans through history, which is fascinating, but they’re not done.

Image Credit: Science.org

They say as data continues to become available they will add and improve the map.

“This study is laying the groundwork for the next generation of DNA sequencing. As the quality of genome sequences from modern and ancient DNA samples improves, the trees will become even more accurate and we will eventually be able to generate a single, unified map that explains the descent of all the human genetic variation we see today.”

And while that seems ambitious and awesome, Wohns thinks it will be a long time before they reach the end of their capabilities.

“While humans are the focus of this study, the method is valid for most living things; from orangutans to bacteria. It could be particularly beneficial in medical genetics, in separating out true associations between genetic regions and diseases from spurious connections arising from our shared ancestral history.”

If you’re someone who loves tracing your own family, I bet you’re keen on seeing where this study goes from here.

Tell us in the comments what you make of all of this!