Saturday, April 20, 2019

Three Distinct Denisovan Lineages Have Been Revealed

Map of four different species of the genus Homo, "Humans"
A new study has proven that the hominins discovered in 2010 that we have been referring to as Denisovans have much greater genetic diversity than scientists previously thought, constituting three separate lineages. One of these groups is so different from the other two, it could be considered a new species entirely.

An international team of researchers has analyzed the genomes of 161 modern humans from islands across Southeast Asia and New Guinea and have concluded that they have DNA that has been inherited from independent and diverse populations of Denisovans. It was in 2018 that it was first uncovered that more than one lineage existed. Now we know that the family tree of Homo denisova is increasingly complex.

Drawing on modern people’s DNA, the scientists realized that these hominins interbred with their Homo sapiens cousins in two different waves. The two interbreeding events have created distinct genetic patterns that can still be identified in the people of Oceania and East Asia today.

The specimens that were found in a cave in Siberia’s Altai Mountains are the only Denisovan skeletal fragments known to science. The lineage of these individuals is being called D0, while the other two are D1 and D2. The group that is closely related to the Altai line has DNA that is found in modern East Asians. The other group – more recently discovered – is very divergent from the Altai line and its DNA is found across modern Oceania and much of Asia. In fact, it is as genetically dissimilar to the Altai Denisovans as it is to Neandertals.

Thus, many scientists are calling for this group to be given their own name, as they may truly comprise a separate species from Homo denisova. Moreover, based on their analysis, the researchers propose that interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Homo denisova took place as recently as 15,000 years ago. If this date is accurate, the implications are shocking. This would mean that Denisovans are the last hominin species related to modern humans known to have died out.

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