Fragments of ancient human DNA sampled from a 50,000-year-old finger bone helped researchers discover a new chapter in the human evolution saga. The genetic material revealed coupling between Neanderthal and Denisovan species, that being the first time when the scientists find evidence of interbreeding between two different ancient human species.
The fossilized bone finger belonged to a girl, aged 13 at the moment of her death, whose mother was a Neanderthal, while her father was a Denisovan. While science knows a lot about Neanderthals, who inhabited Europe and Asia between 450,000 and 40,000 years ago, there is not much known about the Denisovan ancient human species.
Besides a few bone fragments and the genetic traces Denisovans left in the modern human genome, there is nothing more about them.
The study, which got published yesterday, Wednesday, August 22nd, in the journal Nature, is the first to provide an irrefutable proof that ancient human species came along and even interbred during the human evolutionary history.
Ancient human DNA revealed the first evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthal and Denisovan species
Neanderthals, as well as Denisovans, are not extinct, metaphorically speaking, as they live in the modern human DNA. About 2% of the DNA of Europeans and Asians possess Neanderthal DNA, while as much as 6 percent of the genome of Eastern Asians and Pacific Islanders is genetic material inherited from the Denisovans.
While interbreeding between different ancient human species has been taken into account by scientists, there was no proof for it, until now. Also, Denisovans were thought a distinct lineage that divided from the Neanderthals about 400,000 years ago. But, both species had a common ancestor.
“The cool thing about this is, this is extremely direct evidence. We’ve almost caught them in the act, so to speak,” said Svante Paabo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, and the study’s leading author.
On the other hand, the ancient human DNA sample retrieved from the 50,000-year-old fossilized bone presented similar characteristics to Homo Sapiens prooving, once again that Neanderthals and Denisovans still “live on in people today,” as Paabo said.
Jasmine holds a Master’s in Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto and writes professionally in a broad variety of genres. She has worked as a senior manager in public relations and communications for major telecommunication companies, and is the former Deputy Director for Media Relations with the Modern Coalition. Jasmine writes primarily in our LGBTTQQIAAP and Science section.