The Largest Family Tree of Humans: 27 Million Ancestors

The Largest Family Tree of Humans: 27 Million Ancestors

Researchers at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute have taken an important step toward mapping all of the genetic relationships between humans: They have created a single pedigree with all of our ancestors. The study was published yesterday in Science.

In the past two decades, extraordinary advances have been made in genetic research in humans, and the genome data of hundreds of thousands of individuals, including thousands of prehistoric humans, has been created. This opened up the possibility of tracing the origins of human genetic diversity to provide a complete map of how individuals worldwide are related to one another.

The biggest hurdles to this vision were finding a way to develop algorithms that would enable the consolidation of genome sequences from many different databases and to deal with this large amount of data. But a new method, published yesterday by researchers at Oxford University’s Big Data Institute, can easily combine data from multiple sources and sequence millions of genomes.

Evolutionary geneticist at the Big Data Institute and co-author of the study, Dr. Yan Wong explains, “It’s basically a giant family tree; We’ve created a family tree for all humans that literally models the history of all genetic variation we find in humans today. This pedigree allows us to see all the points in the genome, as well as how each person’s genetic sequence relates to one another.”

Since individual genome regions are inherited from only one parent (mother or father), each point in the genome can be thought of as a tree lineage. Known as the “tree sequence” or the “ancestral recombination plot,” this tree sequence traces genetic regions back to the ancestors where genetic variation first appeared.


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