Neandertal Mother, Denisovan Father

DNA reveals first-known child of Neanderthal and Denisovan, study says

DNA reveals first-known child of Neanderthal and Denisovan, study says

Her mother was a Neanderthal, but her father was Denisovan, a distinct species of primitive human that also roamed the Eurasian continent 50,000 years ago, scientists reported yesterday in the journal Nature.

In 2010, researchers working in the Siberian cave, called Denisova, announced they had found DNA from a scrap of bone representing an unknown group of humans.

Paleogeneticists Dr Viviane Slon and Professor Svante Paabo, at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, carried out genome analysis on a bone taken from the cave.

And they appear to have hooked up a lot more often than we thought, said David Lambert from the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University, who was not involved in the research. The finger was crushed for DNA analysis and the findings led to a new hominin being added to our evolutionary textbooks.

The sister groups are now understood to have diverged about 400,000 years ago, after their last common ancestor split with Homo sapiens at least 500,000 years ago.

"I think they convincingly showed that genetically this individual falls halfway between the Neanderthal and Denisovan fossils found in the same cave", he said.

The Denisova 11 bone fragment was excavated in 2012 from the East Gallery of Denisova Cave.

Neanderthal, Denisovans, and modern humans all shared a common ancestor more than 400,000 years ago.

The Denisova Cave has been lived in by modern humans Neanderthals and Denisovans
The Denisova Cave has been lived in by modern humans Neanderthals and Denisovans

"Denisovans are so rare, so we don't know whether Denisovans and Neanderthals had an extensive overlap over long periods of time", he said.
The more well-known Neanderthals were more present in the West, while the elusive Denisovans retreated to the East.

"It's really when we saw this over and over again we realized, in fact, it was mixed Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry", Slon explains.

The girl's story has been pieced together from a single fragment of bone found in the Denisova cave by Russian archaeologists several years ago.

The Denisovans are more mysterious.

The researchers looked at the mitochondrial DNA, which can only be inherited from your mother, to determine which parent belonged to which species. Two percent of most European and Asian populations' DNA is Neanderthal, National Geographic's Wei-Haas writes, while four to six percent of modern Melanesians' DNA derives from Denisovans.

As Neanderthal populations spread eastwards they encountered Denisovans, and the girl in the cave, nicknamed Denny by researchers, is the result of mating between a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

Broader interbreeding may have gained momentum when modern humans emerged from Africa roughly 70,000 years ago. While scientists are rapidly discovering more about Neanderthals, there is very little physical evidence for Denisovans. They were our closest extinct human relatives and disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Some 90,000 years before William Shakespeare first brought the warring Capulets and Montagues to life, two hominins overcame what seems like an insurmountable obstacle-one was a Neanderthal, the other an entirely different species known as the Denisovan-to create a thriving interspecies family.

It's possible that modern human ancestors killed off the others, but equally possible that a small genetic advantage simply allowed modern humans to outbreed their cousins.

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