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Genetics and our ancient past

Using genetics to unravel our ancient past

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The evolution of ecosystems has been considered as an important area of work for drawing comparisons between diverse geological times. Dr John Stewart has made a huge impact in studying interactions amid ancient ecosystems and the process of human evolution around 100,000 years ago.

Stewart, together with Chris Stringer, professor of the Natural History Museum has explored everything from the excavation of caves in Belgium to discovering the Abu Dhabi deserts. He has studied the effects of the warming and cooling of Ice caps and the impact on the survival of plant and animals alike, including the mysterious extinction of the Neanderthals.  They have also focused on the emergence of the Denisovans and the Europeans, including the Neanderthals who lived in Siberia extending to the hot and tropical forests of Indonesia. But their most important contribution to the evolutionary process was to understand the role of a species, when transported from a harsh and diverse condition to a much moderate landscape and how they begin to evolve from an original population group and once unified species to a newly evolved population, which could be attributed to genetic mutations.

Interestingly, Stewart has moved away from fossils to analyzing DNA and has been supported by Love Dalén’s examination of genes from 48,000 year old Neanderthal fossils that are normally distributed in Asia and southern Europe. The plausible explanation for the mysterious disappearance of the Neanderthals is that they possibly passed into an evolutionary restricted window and as a result gradually became extinct. A lot of the new work in Stewart’s group is focused on genetics used to explain the development and evolution of many creatures. Studying the impact of organisms post climatic change could explain the evolution of these species in global warming conditions.

By April Holloway

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