It's approximately one-third of the genome, and that is a lot. So in that regard I think it's changing quite a bit of the history. —Eske Willerslev, study co-author
A group of the first people to inhabit North America might be from a completely different side of the world than previously thought, a new study indicates.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen recently published a study in the scientific journal Nature stating that nearly one-third of Native American genes are basal to modern-day western Eurasians, meaning Native American ancestry could actually tie back to Europe and the Middle East rather than having their gene flow coming solely through eastern Asia.
The discovery came when researchers analyzed the remains of an arm bone from a 3-year-old found near Lake Baikal in Siberia. According to the study, the child's bone is approximately 24,000 years old. Another set of genomes found at the site dated back 17,000 years and revealed similar autosomal genetic signatures.
Previously, it was believed that all Native Americans were descendants of a population that traveled to North America from a land bridge from Eastern Asia.
"This study changes this idea because it shows that a significant minority of Native American ancestry actually derives not from East Asia but from a people related to present-day western Eurasians," Eske Willerslev, study co-author and ancient-DNA specialist, told National Geographic.
"It's approximately one-third of the genome, and that is a lot," he said. "So in that regard I think it's changing quite a bit of the history."
According to the study, "Our findings reveal that western Eurasian genetic signatures in modern-day Native Americans derive not only from post-Columbian admixture, as commonly thought, but also from a mixed ancestry of the First Americans."
"I think it's much more likely that (the meeting of the two populations) occurred in the Old World. But the only way to address that question would be to sequence more ancient skeletons of Native Americans and also Siberians," Willerslev told National Geographic.