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‘Adam’ was 9,000 years older than we thought!

30 January 2014

Prehistoric man just got even more prehistoric – thanks to pioneering research at the University of Sheffield.

Dr Eran Elhaik, a lecturer in Genetic Epidemiology, Population Genetics and Molecular Evolution, has found that the Y chromosome (the ‘male’ chromosome) existed 209,000 years ago – rather than 200,000 years ago as was previously believed.

This means ‘Adam’ – the nickname researchers use to describe the first males of the species – would have existed 9,000 years earlier than people thought.

Some previous studies found that the Y chromosome evolved before human beings did – meaning modern males emerged when female-only prehistoric humans interbred with a different species with the Y chromosome – but Dr Elhaik’s work found this to be false.

Together with Dr Dan Graur from the University of Houston, Dr Elhaik looked at the rate of mutation on the Y chromosome to make the discovery.

Dr Elhaik said: ‘The University of Sheffield provided me with excellent research facilities, allowing me to carry on my work in population genetics, evolutionary genetics, and personalised medicine.

‘We can say with some certainty that modern humans emerged in Africa a little over 200,000 years ago.

‘It is obvious that modern humans did not interbreed with hominins living over 500,000 years ago. It is also clear that there were groups of “Adams and Eves” living side by side and wandering together in our world.’

The University of Sheffield is one of the most cutting-edge institutions in the UK for research, with nearly 25,000 students from 117 countries coming to learn from more than 1,200 top academics.

Five Nobel Prize winners are among its former staff and students, and it has been named University of the Year for research in several lists.

Dr Elhaik is part of a team developing a course for students investigating different aspects of human evolution.

He said: ‘The research in my lab focuses on few topics, among them the question of our origin, our relatedness to extinct hominins, like the Neanderthal and Denisovan, and the demographic history of our species.

‘The large amount of ancient data that we have allows us to unlock the most hidden doors to our past and ask the most fascinating questions about our ancestors.

‘Students can certainly look forward to finding out more about my research in lectures.’

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