'Denisova 11' Had Neanderthal Mother and Denisovan Father | Genetics, Paleoanthropology

Muriel Hammond
August 26, 2018

What's more, when the genome of the newly identified Denisovans was compared to that of modern humans, it turned out that some populations alive today - for example Melanesians and Aboriginal people - still carry some of these ancient human genes.

The enduring genetic footprint of these early human species, as well as the interbreeding insights provided by Denisova 11's tiny bone fragment, suggests that interspecies hybrids may not have been an anomaly as scientists have long believed.

Scientists can not yet say what Denisovans looked like or how they behaved, but it is clear they were separated by Neanderthals and modern humans by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.

But this is the first time a first-generation offspring from the pairing has been discovered.

Analyses of the genome also revealed that the Denisovan father had at least one Neandertal ancestor further back in his family tree.

Denisova 11 was a first generation Neanderthal-Denisovan woman - perhaps we could call her a "Neandersovan"?

The bone indicated that it had belonged to a female at least 13 years old at death.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology only had a single bone of Denny from Denisova Cave in Russian Federation, but it's enough for a genetic analysis that has great implications on the study of ancient humans.

Denisovans were probably dark-skinned, unlike the pale Neanderthals.

The bone fragment shaking up the world of science was discovered there in 2012 and it has helped scientists understand that not only was interbreeding happening, it was happening a lot. We're not quite sure when they faded away, but it is probable that they vanished around the same time the Neanderthals did, 40,000 years ago.

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

The bone fragment in fact came from a girl who had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father, The Independent reports.

Analysis of the bone's DNA left no doubt: the chromosomes were a 50-50 mix of Neanderthal and Denisovan, two distinct species of early humans that split apart between 400,000 to 500,000 years ago.

"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.

While this young girl has told us so much about her ancestors, we know very little about her. For hundreds of thousands of years, they remained distinct.

Paabo said it is not possible to figure out why the Neanderthals traveled, or when, until more genomes are discovered.

"But when they did, they must have mated frequently - much more so than we previously thought".

It is also possible that hybrids suffered from reproductive disorders, having fewer children than humans without mixed DNA.

Virtually most modern non-African humans retain traces of Neanderthal DNA and various Asian populations have Denisovan DNA, validating that Homo sapiens, Denisovans and Neanderthals interbred.

Until some 40,000 years ago, Europe was home to both groups. Further analysis of the fragment's nuclear DNA (inherited from both parents), however, yielded equal amounts of Denisovan DNA.

"Maybe Neanderthals and Denisovans were absorbed into the modern human populations", said Paabo.

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