Data and the cloud: By unlocking our DNA we've found two new

|Mar 12|magazine7 min read

SINGAPORE, March 12, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Big data and cloud computing has led a team of international scientists to a startling discovery that among our ancestors were two previously unknown groups of prehistoric hominins, known collectively as Denisovans.

These findings form a new Denisovan diversity and are based on the blood of around 300 people living today on islands that stretch across Indonesia, New Guinea, and into the Southwest Pacific - where little genetic research has been conducted. As part of the research, samples were collected on a voluntary basis and subjected to genomic sequencing to produce mountains of data to run on Microsoft Azure.

"We identified two new groups. So now we know of three types of Denisovans," says Prof. Murray Cox of Massey University in New Zealand, who authored the findings published last year in the scientific journal, Cell. "They are all very different from Neanderthals[1] - and very different from each other. What we found means that the origins of modern people are far more diverse and complex than any of us had imagined before."

Denisovans disappeared more than 30,000 years ago and like the Neanderthals, they co-existed and interbred with humans, leaving a genetic inheritance that has been passed down in our DNA to this day. The technology was proven a key factor in their project's success due to its scalability and flexibility to conduct research, demonstrating how quickly scientific processes are transforming with the adoption of new digital technologies.

Science moves fast

"The value of the data generated has opened our eyes about how little, to date, we have understood about our diverse populations," says Prof. Murray Cox of Massey University in New Zealand."We have published interesting results on the mysterious Denisovan introgression throughout the archipelago, but that was just a start."

The team will now focus on harnessing the data to find out how genetic attributes can affect the impact of therapeutic drugs, parasite-resistance and the incidence of non-communicable diseases. That said, the Denisovan diversity findings are already paying off, for example, in the cases of some Pacific islander patients who suffer from auto-immune disorders.

To read the full story, please visit Microsoft Asia News Center: https://news.microsoft.com/apac/features/data-and-the-cloud-by-unlocking-our-dna-weve-found-two-new-prehistoric-ancestors/

[1] Denisovans were very early archaic hominins who lived in Asia up until about 15,000 year ago and were very distantly related to Neanderthals. Both species separated early in the middle Pleistocene. The Neanderthal population was large at first but then declined in size as interbreeding began between them and early Eurasian predecessors

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SOURCE Microsoft