Despite being the dominant species on the planet, we Homo sapiens should count ourselves lucky to exist at all.

Our ancestors were on the brink of extinction around 900,000 years ago, according to scientists, with little more than a thousand breeding individuals eking out a lonely existence for more than 100,000 years.

 It also roughly coincides with a period of climate change that could have decimated the survival chances of our predecessors. A population crash would have promoted inbreeding — which might additionally explain why humans show relatively low genetic diversity compared with other mammals.

Nearly 99 per cent of human ancestors were lost in the crash, they write in the journal Science. 

 ... the incredible tale of how over 8bn people alive today carry the genetic torch for 1,280 of the toughest souls who ever lived.

Anjana Ahuja contributing writer on science FT 6 September 2023


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