A comprehensive analysis of DNA from modern Melanesian people suggests an assortment of mutated genes inherited from extinct Neanderthals and Denisovans provided evolutionary advantages, such as the ability to consume new foods and avoid infections, among other important benefits.Neanderthals and Denisovans went extinct some 35,000 to 40,000 years ago, but not before these closely related hominins interbred with modern humans.To this very day, the legacy of these interbreeding episodes live on in our DNA – at least among humans of European and Asian descent.New research published today in Science dives into these unknowns, uncovering new evidence suggesting some of these inherited genes – at least among modern Melanesians – conferred certain evolutionary benefits, the exact nature of which still needs to be determined.“Our study demonstrates that previously unknown large genomic structural changes that originated in our now-extinct close relatives – and were subsequently introgressed or introduced back to our genome – play important roles in human evolution,” explained PingHsun Hsieh, a geneticist from the Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle and the lead researcher of the new paper, in an email to Gizmodo.“We also identify new genes encompassed within these large genomic variants that might be beneficial to Melanesians and help them adapt to their local island environments.”
“Basically, the story that we are telling is full of shit,” said Mike Morley, an archaeologist at Flinders University and the lead author of the new study, in an email to Gizmodo.Well, to be fair to Morley and his colleagues, their story is also full of charcoal fragments, ash, bits of bone, and flakes from stone tools – all of which were dredged from 3 to 4 metres (9 to 13 feet) of sediment at the bottom of two chambers in Denisova Cave.By performing a micromorphological analysis of all the stuff embedded within this dirt – both geological and biological – the researchers were able to reconstruct a history of habitation in the cave over the course of 300,000 years, a timespan that included no less than three interglacial cycles.Genetic evidence from 2018 suggests the two groups cohabited and co-mingled in the cave, as evidenced by the discovery of a half-Denisovan, half-Neanderthal individual.The new research corroborates the previous work done in Denisova Cave, but it also helps to fill in some unknown gaps, showing that archaic humans were not present in the cave for significant swaths of time.“We already knew from the fossil bone record that other animals were present in the cave, but it was a surprise just how much hyena – and to a lesser extent, wolf – poop there would be in the sediment record,” said Morley.
New research has revealed a Denisovan finger bone that’s unexpectedly human-like in shape – an odd observation, given the close relation of Denisovans to Neanderthals, whose fingers differed quite a bit from ours.To date, only five skeletal fossils are known from Denisovans: three molars, a mandible, and the tip of a pinky finger.That’s not much to go by, but the 50,000-year-old finger bone – discovered 11 years ago in Siberia’s Denisova Cave – yielded critically important genetic information.The research, led by E. Andrew Bennett from Paris Diderot University, revealed a finger that’s closer in shape to those of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens) than to those of Neanderthals – a surprise, given how closely related Denisovans are to Neanderthals.Fascinatingly, this finding doesn’t mean modern humans looked like Denisovans.Genetic evidence suggests modern humans interbred with Denisovans (and also Neanderthals), and that Neanderthals interbred with Denisovans.
The 160,000-year-old jawbone was uncovered by a Buddhist monk in a Chinese cave nearly 40 years ago—an aspect of this story that’s as intriguing as it is frustrating.To quickly recap this breaking news, a partial jaw bone found in Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau in Xiahe, China, has been identified as belonging to the mysterious Denisovan hominins, a sister species to the Neanderthals that went extinct about 50,000 years ago.The presence of the fossil in the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau finally explains why Denisovans had a genetic variant associated with a resistance to altitude sickness.It also shows that Denisovans had retained some primitive physical features, such as robust molars, and that they had travelled across Asia.That said, the Denisovan mandible was not discovered by the authors of the new paper, a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EA) and Lanzhou University.Rather, the fossil was found in 1980 by an anonymous Buddhist monk who stumbled upon the relic after venturing into the cave to pray and meditate, according to Jean-Jacques Hublin, an MPI-EA archaeologist and the lead author of the new study.
The 160,000-year-old jawbone was uncovered by a Buddhist monk in a Chinese cave nearly 40 years ago—an aspect of this story that’s as intriguing as it is frustrating.To quickly recap this breaking news, a partial jaw bone found in Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau in Xiahe, China, has been identified as belonging to the mysterious Denisovan hominins, a sister species to the Neanderthals that went extinct about 50,000 years ago.The presence of the fossil in the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau finally explains why Denisovans had a genetic variant associated with a resistance to altitude sickness.It also shows that Denisovans had retained some primitive physical features, such as robust molars, and that they had travelled across Asia.That said, the Denisovan mandible was not discovered by the authors of the new paper, a collaboration between the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EA) and Lanzhou University.Rather, the fossil was found in 1980 by an anonymous Buddhist monk who stumbled upon the relic after venturing into the cave to pray and meditate, according to Jean-Jacques Hublin, an MPI-EA archaeologist and the lead author of the new study.
In 2010, archaeologists found evidence of a previously unknown hominin, the Denisovans, in a Siberian cave.This Denisovan mandible was discovered nearly 40 years ago by a monk who was wandering through Baishiya Karst Cave in Xiahe, China.We suspected this day would come, and it’s finally happened—the first fossil evidence of this species outside of Denisova cave, which is located in the Siberian Altai Mountains.Today, bits of Denisovan DNA linger on in present day Asian, Australian, and Melanesian populations.Indeed, a remarkable and puzzling aspect of Denisovan DNA is the presence of an allele known as EPAS1.This genetic mutation confers resistance to hypoxia, otherwise known as altitude sickness.
In 2010, archaeologists found evidence of a previously unknown hominin, the Denisovans, in a Siberian cave.This Denisovan mandible was discovered nearly 40 years ago by a monk who was wandering through Baishiya Karst Cave in Xiahe, China.We suspected this day would come, and it’s finally happened—the first fossil evidence of this species outside of Denisova cave, which is located in the Siberian Altai Mountains.Today, bits of Denisovan DNA linger on in present day Asian, Australian, and Melanesian populations.Indeed, a remarkable and puzzling aspect of Denisovan DNA is the presence of an allele known as EPAS1.This genetic mutation confers resistance to hypoxia, otherwise known as altitude sickness.
Researchers have detailed a method by which it is possible to detect the presence of long-gone hominin groups in locations where actual skeletal remains aren’t present.The method — which involves looking for traces of DNA in sediment layers — has been successfully used to detect the presence of Neanderthal DNA in more than half a dozen sediment layers, as well as an instance of Denisovan DNA detection in what is described as a Middle Pleistocene layer.Knowing which hominin groups occupied any given archaeological site is important in helping shape current knowledge about the site itself, migration, and more.However, the absence of skeletal remains has largely meant that this knowledge was beyond most researchers who, at best, could detect early human presence in the form of tools, sawed bones, and similar.According to a new study published in Science Mag, that limitation is changing.By looking for trace DNA in sediment layers, researchers are able to determine which ancient hominin once occupied a site, including the presence of long-gone Denisova hominin and Neanderthals.
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