A Lord of the Rings world
The research team from the Royal Society in London presented their results on 18 November, suggesting that the interbreeding took place not only with Neanderthals and Denisovans, but also with another, yet to be identified group.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work.
Neanderthals and Denisovans
Humans Interbred Neanderthals, Denisovans; mysterious species – Neanderthals are closely related to modern humans, differing in DNA by only 0.3%, just twice the variability across contemporary humans. The first humans with proto-Neanderthal traits are believed to have existed in Europe as early as 600,000–350,000 years ago.
Meanwhile, Denisovans lived closer to the present day. In March 2010, scientists announced the discovery of a finger bone fragment of a juvenile female who lived about 41,000 years ago, found in the remote Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia – a cave which was also inhabited by humans and Neanderthals.
Humans Interbred Neanderthals, Denisovans; mysterious species – The first Neanderthal and Denisovan genome sequences had a huge impact, practically revolutionizing the study of ancient human history, mostly because they showed (pretty much beyond the shadow of a doubt) that these groups interbred with anatomically modern humans, contributing to the genetic diversity of many people alive today.
Humans Interbred Neanderthals, Denisovans; mysterious species – However, these first analyze genomes were low quality, riddled with errors and full of gaps – with better samples, studies such as this one can reach even more remarkable conclusions. David Reich, an evolutionary geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, led a team which developed the most complete versions of the Denisovan and Neanderthal genomes — matching the quality of contemporary human genomes.
A new population?
So after the news that interbreeding was rather common, everyone was puzzled about this (genetically) new species – what could it be? Apparently, anthropologists are just as puzzled as us.
“We don’t have the faintest idea,” says Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at the London Natural History Museum, who was not involved in the work. He speculates that the population could be related to Homo heidelbergensis, a species that left Africa around half a million years ago and later gave rise to Neanderthals in Europe. “Perhaps it lived on in Asia as well,” Stringer says.
Humans Interbred Neanderthals, Denisovans; mysterious species – We present the high-quality genome sequence of a ~45,000-year-old modern human male from Siberia. This individual derives from a population that lived before—or simultaneously with—the separation of the populations in western and eastern Eurasia and carries a similar amount of Neanderthal ancestry as present-day Eurasians. However, the genomic segments of Neanderthal ancestry are substantially longer than those observed in present-day individuals, indicating that Neanderthal gene flow into the ancestors of this individual occurred 7,000–13,000 years before he lived. We estimate an autosomal mutation rate of 0.4 × 10−9 to 0.6 × 10−9 per site per year, a Y chromosomal mutation rate of 0.7 × 10−9 to 0.9 × 10−9 per site per year based on the additional substitutions that have occurred in present-day non-Africans compared to this genome, and a mitochondrial mutation rate of 1.8 × 10−8 to 3.2 × 10−8 per site per year based on the age of the bone.
Humans Interbred Neanderthals, Denisovans; mysterious species –
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