Saga of early humans etched in DNA of mixed-species child

Saga of early humans etched in DNA of mixed-species child

Saga of early humans etched in DNA of mixed-species child

Until now, scientists had discovered only four Denisovans; the fifth turned out to be a first-generation hybrid.

On the other hand, lead author of the study Svante Pääbo believed encounters between the two species would have been rare, since Neanderthals were known to live across western Eurasia, while Denisovans have mostly stuck to their cave in Russian Federation, as far as scientists now know.

An examination of the X chromosome showed that Denisova 11 was female. Strangely, her Neanderthal mother's DNA was closer to that of Neanderthals found living in Croatia thousands of years later than to the other members of her species in the cave.

Tens of thousands of years after Denisova's untimely death, one of her bone fragments has provided the first conclusive evidence of early human interbreeding.

"The modern humans were more numerous, and the other species might have been incorporated". Meanwhile, the Denisovan father actually had a Neanderthal ancestor farther back in his family tree. Subsequent discoveries in the cave confirmed that the Denisovans were a lineage distinct from modern humans.

However, the only known site where fossil evidence of both Denisovans and Neanderthals has been found is at Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. And in 2012, anthropologists found a fragment of a long bone - either arm or leg - of a Denisovan/Neanderthal girl and named it Denisova 11.

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And the Neanderthals and the denisovans went extinct some 40,000 years ago.

The researchers said the findings, published on Thursday in Nature, indicates Neanderthals from the east and west migrated and bred with the Denisovans.

"It is striking that we find this Neandertal/Denisovan child among the handful of ancient individuals whose genomes have been sequenced", Svante Pääbo, lead author of the study and director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said in a statement.

Till a few years ago, we used to think that homo sapiens wiped out other hominins by killing them due to overwhelming numbers.

There are very few bones of cataloged Denisovans.

The 90,000-year-old remains - discovered in an icy cave in Siberia - are the first ever belonging to a Neanderthal hybrid.

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DNA inherited from the father was more of a mix: mostly Denisovan, but with its own sprinkling of ancient Neanderthal.

"My first reaction was, "What did I do wrong?'" Slon tells The Atlantic " s Sarah Zhang. However, after the hybrid hypothesis was suggested the DNA evidence became "good proof that this was real", she explained. Each test ended with the same result.

"We've only got the excavations in the Denisova cave".

To determine from which hominin group Denisova 11 originated, they compared the proportions of DNA fragments that match derived genetic variants from the genome of "Altai Neanderthal" and a Denisovan genome (Denisova 3), both determined from bones discovered in Denisova Cave, as well as from a present-day African genome.

The mother came from a population more closely related to Neanderthals who lived later in Europe than to an earlier Neanderthal found in the cave, suggesting that migrations of Neanderthals between eastern and western Eurasia occurred sometime after 120,000 years ago.

Neanderthals and Denisovans were humans like us, but belonged to different species.

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