What makes humans unique? Scientists have taken another step toward solving an enduring mystery with a new tool that may allow for more precise comparisons between the DNA of modern humans and that of our extinct ancestors. Just 7 per cent of our genome is uniquely shared with other humans, and not shared by other early ancestors, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

What

  1. The research draws upon DNA extracted from fossil remains of now-extinct Neanderthals and Denisovans dating back to around 40,000 or 50,000 years ago, as well as from 279 modern people from around the world.
  2. Scientists already know that modern people share some DNA with Neanderthals, but different people share different parts of the genome.
  3. One goal of the new research was to identify the genes that are exclusive to modern humans It’s a difficult statistical problem, and the researchers “developed a valuable tool that takes account of missing data in the ancient genomes.
  4. The researchers also found that an even smaller fraction of our genome — just 1.5 per cent — is both unique to our species and shared among all people alive today.
  5. Those slivers of DNA may hold the most significant clues as to what truly distinguishes modern human beings.