The ancient hunter-gatherer Khoisan tribesmen of South Africa. NTU

One of the most ancient lineages of the modern human has been uncovered by the sequencing of genes of a Southern African tribe.

The Khoisan tribe, made popular by The Gods Must Be Crazy movie series has been the biggest group of living humans for most of the last 150,000 years.

Scientists from Nanyang Technological University and Penn State University sequenced the genome of five living individuals of the Khoisan hunter/gatherer tribe and compared them with 420,000 genetic variants across 1,462 genomes from 48 ethnic groups of the global population.

The group was found to be genetically distinct not only from Europeans and Asians, but also from all other Africans.

Some individuals of the tribe exhibited traits showing their ancestors did not breed with other ethnic groups for 150,000 years

The study shows how genetic sequencing can reveal the ancestral lineage of any ethnic group up to 200,000 years ago.

The work will enable scientists to better understand how the human genome has evolved and lead to more effective treatment options for certain genetic diseases.

Khoisan hunter/gatherers in Southern Africa have always perceived themselves as the oldest people.

"Our study proves that they truly belong to one of mankind's most ancient lineages, and these high quality genome sequences obtained from the tribesmen will help us better understand human population history, especially the understudied branch of mankind such as the Khoisan," said Prof Schuster, an NTU scientist at the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering and a former Penn State University professor.

A hunter-gatherer with his bow and arrow. NTU

The high quality genome sequences obtained from the tribesmen is expected to help scientists understand human population history, especially the understudied branch such as the Khoisan.

"A key finding from this study is that even today after 150,000 years, single non-admixed individuals or descendants of those who did not interbreed with separate populations can be identified within the Ju/'hoansi population, which means there might be more of such unique individuals in other parts of the world," added Dr Kim Hie Lim Kim from NTU.

The Ju/'hoansi tribe was made famous in the 80s and 90s by the box-office hit movie series The Gods Must Be Crazy.

The research was published in Nature Communications.

A recent genetic analysis of a skeleton found in South Africa had linked the same to the mitochondrial tree from which all branches evolved but belonging to an extinct lineage. Like the present study, it highlighted the need for better sequencing on indigenous groups.