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Oldest Human DNA Reveals Mysterious Branch of Humanity

human evolution unknown ancestor denisovans genetic analysis neanderthal

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#1 Hum

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Posted 04 December 2013 - 21:51

The oldest known human DNA found yet reveals human evolution was even more confusing than thought, researchers say.

The DNA, which dates back some 400,000 years, may belong to an unknown human ancestor, say scientists. These new findings could shed light on a mysterious extinct branch of humanity known as Denisovans, who were close relatives of Neanderthals, scientists added.

Although modern humans are the only surviving human lineage, others once strode the Earth. These included Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, and the relatively newfound Denisovans, who are thought to have lived in a vast expanse from Siberia to Southeast Asia. Research shows that the Denisovans shared a common origin with Neanderthals but were genetically distinct, with both apparently descending from a common ancestral group that had diverged earlier from the forerunners of modern humans.

Genetic analysis suggests the ancestors of modern humans interbred with both these extinct lineages. Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 to 4 percent of modern Eurasian genomes, and Denisovan DNA makes up 4 to 6 percent of modern New Guinean and Bougainville Islander genomes in the Melanesian islands.

 

Surprisingly, the mitochondrial DNA reveals this fossil shared a common ancestor not with Neanderthals, but with Denisovans, splitting from them about 700,000 years ago. This is odd, since research currently suggests the Denisovans lived in eastern Asia, not in western Europe, where this fossil was uncovered.

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