Creating the world's largest genetic family tree


25 February 2022
Scientists from Oxford University’s Big Data Institute have created the world’s largest genetic family tree. Combining samples of modern and ancient DNA, they have created a vast network of genetic information that sheds light on the evolution and migration of the human population over hundreds of thousands of years.

Combining samples of modern and ancient DNA, scientists have been able to generate “hundreds of thousands of modern human genomes and thousands of ancient human genomes”. This has been reported recently (25 February 2022) in Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.abi8264).

The journal article – written by 10 collaborative authors - explains how the “unified genealogy of modern and ancient genomes” was created, and demonstrates what a massive undertaking this has been. (The authors include: Anthony Wilder Wohns, Yan Wong, Ben Jeffery, Ali Akbari, Swapan Mallick, Ron Pinhasi, Nick Patterson, David Reich, Jerome Kelleher, and Gil McVean).

The project’s discoveries have enabled scientists to “determine how our genomes have changed over time”, providing insights that are useful to learn about the evolution of the human species and to better estimate “ancestor geographic location”.

Content continues after advertisements

The article explains that the fact that genomic datasets are usually distinct from one another makes comparison of data and an understanding of the bigger picture that the DNA samples paint more difficult. In the Oxford University Big Data Institute project, however, they have integrated data from eight different databases. The data reflects 215 populations and comprises 3,601 modern individual genome sequences and 8 ancient ones. Using this data they have reconstructed the genomes of humans in the past. They have then used this information to infer the “paths and timings of historic migrations”. It is this reconstruction of genomes from the past, and the integration of data from lots of different DNA databases which make this project different and so exciting.