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The recent recipient of the 2018 Princess of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research, Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA, in Germany) is known for his genomic studies in which confirms the crosses of modern humans with Neanderthals and DenisovansExtinct, close ‘relatives’ that inhabited western and eastern Eurasia respectively until about 40,000 years ago.
In fact, about 2% of the genome of modern non-African humans is thought to be Neanderthal, and some Oceanian peoples now have about 5% Denisovan DNA.
[Tweet «#Prehistory #News - Genomic analysis of a small bone reveals that it belonged to a young woman of more than 50,000 years ago with a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father»]
Now Pääbo's team has confirmed that Neanderthals and Denisovans also interbred with each other. The study, published this week in the journal Nature, presents genomic data from a bone sample that belonged to a young woman, at least 13 years old when she died more than 50,000 years ago, and whose parents were a Neanderthal and a Denisovan.
"It is surprising that we find this Neanderthal-Denisovan girl among the handful of ancient individuals whose genomes have been sequenced," notes Pääbo, who explains: "Neanderthals and Denisovans may not have had many opportunities to meet, but when they did, They must have mated frequently, much more than we thought so far.
The bone fragment, named Denisova 11, Russian archaeologists found it in 2012 in the Denisova cave, the same one that gives the Denisovans their name and located in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. After verifying that it belonged to a hominid due to its protein composition, it was taken to the MPI-EVA laboratories in Leipzig to carry out genetic analyzes that confirmed the different origin of the parents.
A lucky break
“We knew from previous studies that Neanderthals and Denisovans must have had children from time to time,” says Viviane Slon, MPI-EVA researcher and co-author of the work, “but I never thought that we would be so lucky as to find a real offspring of the two groups ».
The data on the young woman's genome have also served to obtain information on the ancestry of parents and their respective groups. Thus, it has been found that although Father was Denisovan, had at least one Neanderthal ancestor in your family tree.
For its part, the mother was genetically closer to the Neanderthals that inhabited western Europe that of a Neanderthal individual who lived some 20,000 years earlier in Denisova Cave. This shows that Neanderthals migrated between western and eastern Eurasia some tens of thousands of years before their disappearance.
This unique genome has allowed the detection of multiple interactions between Neanderthals and Denisovans, although the authors point out that the two groups remained genetically distinct from each other, perhaps because hybridizations, even if they occurred, were limited.
It is a sterile academic discussion to talk about whether Neanderthals, Denisovans and modern humans are the same species, because there is no universal definition of species
If they interbreed and have fertile children, are they the same species?
Finding direct evidence of the crossing of Neanderthals and Denisovans, or between them and modern humans, often leads to a recurring question:They are then the same species, understood as organisms that can interbreed and have fertile offspring.?
"Under that definition, the three groups would be the same species", Pääbo explains to Sinc," but we stay away from the debate of whether they are different species or not, because there is no universal definition of species. "
The expert gives an example: “Polar bears and grizzlies have fertile offspring in the wild. However, they look different and behave differently, so most people would consider them different species. "
"So it is a sterile academic discussion to talk about whether Neanderthals and modern humans or Denisovans are separate species or not," concludes Pääbo.
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