Could the lives of the eight billion people currently on Earth have depended on the resilience of just 1,280 human ancestors who very nearly went extinct 900,000 years ago?
That is the finding of a recent study which used genetic analysismodeling to determine that our ancestors teetered on the brink of annihilation for nearly 120,000 years.
However, scientists not involved in the research have criticized the claim, one telling AFP there was "pretty much unanimous" agreement among population geneticists that it was not convincing.
None denied that the ancestors of humans could have neared extinction at some point, in what is known as a population bottleneck.
But experts expressed doubts that the study could be so precise, given the extraordinarily complicated task of estimating population changes so long ago, and emphasized that similar methods had not spotted this massive population crash.
It is extremely difficult to extract DNA from the few fossils of human relatives dating from more than a couple of hundred thousand years ago, making it hard to know much about them.
But advances in genome sequencing mean that scientists are now able to analyze genetic mutations in modern humans, then use a computer model that works backwards in time to infer how populations changed—even in the distant past.
The study, published in the journal Science earlier this month, looked at the genomes of more than 3,150 modern-day humans.
The Chinese-led team of researchers developed a model to crunch the numbers, which found that the population of breeding human ancestors shrank to about 1,280 around 930,000 years ago.
You can read a lot more in an article by Daniel Lawler published in the phys.org web site at: https://phys.org/news/2023-09-skepticism-human-ancestors-extinct.html.