The scientists of the University of Copenhagen have retrieved the oldest human genetic data set from an 800,000-year-old tooth belonging to the hominin species Homo antecessor.
By using the mass spectrometry technique by sequencing ancient proteins from the dental enamel, scientists can determine the position of the placing of the ancestor in the family tree. Also by using a new molecular method, paleoproteomics, the researchers would be able to construct the molecular structure of the ancestor, which makes a mark further back in time than ever before.
Human and chimpanzee ancestry had split between 9-7 million years ago and scientists have been finding various ways to strike a relation that fills in the gap of the relations. Initial observations led to conclude that Homo antecessor was the last common ancestor to modern humans and Neanderthals, a conclusion based on the physical shape and appearance of the fossils. In the following years, the exact relation between Homo antecessor and other human groups, like ourselves and Neanderthals, has been discussed intensely among anthropologists.
“Much of what we know so far is based either on the results of ancient DNA analysis or on observations of the shape and the physical structure of fossils. Because of the chemical degradation of DNA over time, the oldest human DNA retrieved so far is dated at no more than approximately 400,000 years,” says Enrico Cappellini, Associate Professor at the Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen, and a leading author on the paper.
“Now, the analysis of ancient proteins with mass spectrometry, an approach is commonly known as palaeoproteomics, allow us to overcome these limits,” he added.
The findings were published in the April issue of Nature.