Unraveling ancient human DNA must be like crack for anthropologists — they just can’t stop! Joe Palca reports for NPR:
DNA taken from a pinkie bone at least 30,000 years old is hinting at the existence of a previously unknown population of ancient humans. It’s just the latest example of how modern genetic techniques are transforming the world of anthropology.
The pinkie bone in question was unearthed in 2008 from what’s called the Denisova Cave.
“The Denisova Cave is in southern Siberia in the Altai Mountains in central Asia,” says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “This bone is the bone of a 6- to 7-year-old girl.”
Reich and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig were able to extract DNA from the pinkie bone and sequence all 3 billion letters of DNA that made up this girl’s genome. This is the second ancient genome this team has unraveled. The first was the Neanderthal genome announced earlier this year.
Closer To Neanderthals
Reich says there were several remarkable things about the group of people this girl is from, a group he and his colleagues call Denisovans.
“On the one hand it’s a sister group to Neanderthals, which means that it’s more closely related to Neanderthals on average than it is to modern humans,” he says.
As he reports in the journal Nature, the other remarkable finding was that Denisovans’ genome was more closely related to humans currently living in New Guinea than it was to genomes of people in Europe or Asia…
[continues at NPR]