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Artificial Intelligence Study of Human Genome Finds Unknown Human Ancestor

recent study used machine learning technology to analyze eight leading models of human origins and evolution, and the program identified evidence in the human genome of a “ghost population” of human ancestors.

The analysis suggests that a previously unknown and long-extinct group of hominins interbred with Homo sapiens in Asia and Oceania somewhere along the long, winding road of human evolutionary history, leaving behind only fragmented traces in modern human DNA.

Previous human genome studies have revealed that after modern humans left Africa, perhaps 180,000 years ago, they subsequently interbred with species like Neanderthals and Denisovans, who coexisted with early modern humans before going extinct.

“As it happens, if you subtract the Neanderthal and Denisovan parts, there is still something in the genome that is highly divergent.” Identifying and analyzing the many divergent places throughout the genome, and computing the countless genetic combinations that could have produced them, is too big a job for humans to tackle on their own—but it’s a task that may be tailor made for deep learning algorithms.

These machine learning systems can detect patterns and account for previous information to “learn,” allowing them to perform new tasks or look for new information after analyzing enormous amounts of data.

Deep learning says, ‘I don’t know what squiggly shape should fit to these points, but let’s see what happens.’” In this case, machines were set to work analyzing the human genome and predicting human demographics by simulating how our DNA might have evolved over many thousands of possible scenarios of ancient evolution.

“Every time we do a simulation, it’s a simulation of a possible path of human evolution, and we have run those simulations thousands of times, and the deep learning algorithms are able to recognize which of the models best suit the data.” The machine’s conclusion?

when that seems to be the norm.” In fact, because only eight models were tested and many others could be possible, Mathieson adds that the new findings are “certainly a plausible scenario, but the reality is likely even more complex.” As new fossil discoveries are made in the field, updated models can now be tested against the human genome using these types of programs.

“If you want to do an extremely detailed model because you’re an anthropologist, and you want to know if this introgression happened 80,000 years ago or 40,000 years ago, that’s the power of a deep learning approach like this.” Complex as they are, the interbreedings of ancient Eurasia are still only one part of our human story.

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