Is there fossil evidence of human evolution

Prehistoric cannibal tooth provides the oldest evidence to date of man's ancestors

As a new study suggests, the archaic human species Homo antecessor was related to modern humans as well as Neanderthals.

Scientific advances

The question of how the Homo antecessor, the earliest known hominin species, is related to other species of the genus Homo and where on the evolutionary tree this ancestor is located has already been widely discussed. Genetic data and fossil finds provide insights into the origins of modern humans, but as a result of the decomposition of ancient DNA, it is difficult to precisely record the evolutionary process. A team of researchers started with a new technique with the help of which they examined proteins in the tooth enamel of an 800,000-year-old find of human nature in order to be able to classify them on the family tree. The researchers, who were partly supported by the EU-funded projects HOPE (HOminin Proteomes in human Evolution) and TEMPERA (Teaching Emerging Methods in Palaeoproteomics for the European Research Area), extracted molecular evidence using the paleoproteomics method and were thus in the Able to retrace and accurately reconstruct human evolution farther than ever before. Using mass spectrometry, they sequenced old proteins in the enamel of a tooth of the species Homo antecessor and compared them with corresponding material from other hominini such as Homo sapiens. Thanks to this procedure, the position of Homo antecessor could be clearly located on the human family tree. The results were published in the journal "Nature". Hominini is a group name that includes modern humans as well as extinct human species and all of our direct ancestors.

Next generation protein analysis

In a press release from the University of Copenhagen, which is coordinating the HOPE and TEMPERA projects, Frido Welker, first author of the study, explains: “The analysis of ancient proteins provides us with evidence of a close relationship between Homo antecessor, us [Homo sapiens], the Neanderthals and the Denisova man. Our results support the following thesis: The Homo antecessor was a sibling group to the group that includes Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans. ”Lead author Enrico Cappellini from the University of Copenhagen points out that the Information on the evolutionary relationships between our species and other species “based either on the results of the analysis of ancient DNA or on knowledge of the shape and physical structure of fossils. Due to the chemical degradation of DNA over time, the oldest human DNA obtained to date only goes back around 400,000 years. ”Science solves this problem by analyzing old proteins using mass spectrometry and thereby enabling this information to be compared with that of other homini. This will help determine how they are genetically related to each other, the press release said.

Homo antecessor as a basic species in the origin of mankind

The same message reports that the fossils examined by the research team were discovered in 1994 in the Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain. At first, science concluded that Homo antecessor was the last common precursor of modern humans and Neanderthals, but the exact relationship between these homini later became a much debated issue. José María Bermúdez de Castro, co-author of the study, says: “The characteristics that homo antecessor have in common with these homini apparently showed up much earlier than previously thought. Homo antecessor would therefore be a basic species in the origin of mankind, made up of Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans. ”The HOPE project“ aims to establish the genetic relationships between our species and extinct hominin species in terms of localities and to reconstruct periods of time in which the preservation of old DNA is not given. The method used for this is the mass spectrometry-based sequencing of ancient hominine proteins ”, as explained on the CORDIS website. As part of the TEMPERA project, training courses are offered for young researchers in which they learn to read old protein sequences and to correctly interpret the information obtained. Further information: Project HOPETEMPERA project website

key terms

HOPE, TEMPERA, Homo antecessor, Homo sapiens, Neanderthals