At most, just 7% of the human genome is unique to our species. We share most genes with Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other ancestors.

Neanderthal
An employee of the Natural History Museum in London looks at model of a Neanderthal male in his twenties, which is on display at the museum’s “Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story” exhibition, September 2014.

Humans like to think they’re special, but our genes suggest that’s far from the case.

No more than 7% of the human genome is unique to Homo sapiens, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

We share the remaining chunks of our genetic material with other human ancestors, or hominins, including our Neanderthal cousins and the Denisovans first discovered in east Asia.

“The evolutionary family tree shows there are regions of our genome that make us uniquely human,” Richard Green, director of the paleogenomics lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz and co-author of the new study, told Insider. “Now we have a catalog of those, and it’s a surprisingly small fraction of the genome.”

Anthropologists already knew that our hominin ancestors all interacted and interbred – exchanging genes and stone technologies that altered the course of our species’ evolution. But these new findings further underscore just how frequently that intermingling happened in the last 300,000 years or so, since the first known population of modern humans emerged.

“More or less everywhere we look, admixture is not the exception at all, but rather the rule,” Green said.

Genetic evidence suggests our ancestors interbred with mysterious hominins

Neanderthal family
An exhibit shows the life of a neanderthal family in a cave in the new Neanderthal Museum in the northern town of Krapina, Croatia, February 25, 2010.

To construct a hominin family tree, Green’s team sequenced and compared genomes from 279 modern humans – sampled from people all over the world – to ancient genomes from one Denisovan and two Neanderthals. Then, the researchers used a computer algorithm to determine out how each of those individuals are related to each other.

The analysis tool, which Green said took years to develop, helped them distinguish what parts of the human genome are devoid of admixture – meaning these sets of genes aren’t seen in Neanderthals or Denisovans.

The algorithm also highlighted what genes humans inherited from an even older ancestor, one that lived 500,000 years ago or so, that eventually gave rise to our species as well as Neanderthals and other hominins.

The study results suggest mysterious populations of human ancestors that scientists haven’t even discovered yet may have interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans before these species mixed with modern humans, Green added.

Genes unique to humans are related to our brain development

denisovan mtDNA lab work
A scientist at work in a laboratory at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology analyzing ancient DNA.

Researchers have already identified many of the human genes that resulted from cross-species trysts, but this is the first study to pinpoint what regions of genes were completely devoid of admixture, according to Green.

His group found these uniquely human regions of our genome were “incredibly enriched for genes that have to do with neural development,” Green said.

While Neanderthals have similarly large, if not larger, heads than humans do, that cranium size tells us little about how well their brains work compared to ours.

“Now we know human-specific stuff has to do with brain function,” Green said.

And most of these uniquely human genes came out during two distinct bursts of evolution – one that happened 600,000 years ago and another 200,000 years ago – the study found.

One of those evolutionary waves could’ve laid the genetic groundwork for human communication, Green said.

“It’s extremely tempting to speculate that one or more of these bursts had something to do the incredibly social behavior humans have – mediated in large part by our expert control of speech and language,” he said.

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Biden to spend another $1.6 billion to expand COVID-19 testing in schools and underserved areas

Walmart covid testing
  • President Joe Biden has announced a $1.6 billion investment in expanded COVID-19 testing.
  • Funds will go to testing K-8 schools and underserved communities, and increased genome sequencing.
  • Biden also called on Congress to pass his stimulus plan, which includes $50 billion for testing.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he will invest $1.6 billion to expand the availability of testing in K-8 schools and underserved areas, intended to serve as a “bridge” until Congress approves more funding.

During his first presidential town hall in Milwaukee on Tuesday, Biden said that by the end of July, the country will have 600 million vaccine doses available, enough for every American. But in the meantime, safety measures are still needed, and this new funding will be used to expand COVID-19 testing for K-8 schools and underserved populations, along with increased manufacturing for testing supplies and virus genome sequencing.

The Dept. of Health and Human Services and the Dept. of Defense will allocate $650 million to expand testing in K-8 schools and “underserved congregate setting” like homeless shelters, according to the White House, along with an $815 million investment to increase domestic manufacturing of testing supplies, such as filter pipette tips.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invest nearly $200 million to identify and track emerging COVID-19 strains through genome sequencing, which will allow for a better understanding of how the virus spreads.

“As the Administration is working around the clock to vaccinate the population, we need to continue to do what we know works to protect public health: universal masking, physical distancing, and robust testing,” the White House said in a statement. “These down payments will serve as a bridge to comprehensive testing investments in the American Rescue Plan.”

While the $1.6 billion will significantly improve testing availability, the Biden administration said Congress still needs to pass the president’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $50 billion to be used specifically for testing purposes.

“These investments are only the beginning of what is needed to expand testing nationwide and get the pandemic under control,” the White House statement said. “The American Rescue Plan will invest $50 billion to expand and support testing, including in priority settings like schools and shelters, and invest in US testing capacity so that public health officials can track the virus in real time and Americans can efficiently get results.”

According to the CDC, the US is averaging 1.7 million vaccinations per day, but the need for further testing remains a priority for Biden.

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