Mystery ancestor mated with ancient humans. And its ‘nested’ DNA was just found.

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‘Game-Changer’ in Evolution from S. African Bones

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Two million-year-old bones belonging to a creature with both apelike and human traits provide the clearest evidence of evolution’s first major step toward modern humans — findings some are calling a potential game-changer.

An analysis of the bones found in South Africa suggests Australopithecus sediba is the most likely candidate to be the ancestor of humans, said lead researcher Lee R. Berger of the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

The fossils, belonging to a male child and an adult female, show a novel combination of features, almost as though nature were experimenting. Some resemble pre-human creatures while others suggest the genus Homo, which includes Homo sapiens, modern people.

“It’s as if evolution is caught in one vital moment, a stop-action snapshot of evolution in action,” said Richard Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution. He was not among the team, led by South African scientists, whose research was published online Thursday in the journal Science. Continue reading