Neanderthal, Denisovan Hybrid Teen Sheds Light On Interbreeding Among Different Human Species

Excavators work in Denisova Cave in Russia

And while these groups of humans are separated by thousands of years of evolution, it seems when in contact there was the chance for the men and women of the two groups to hook up and breed.

Dr Viviane Slon, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said: 'We knew Neanderthals and Denisovans must have occasionally had children together. The bone is thick, which means that it belonged to someone at least 13 years old. Denisova 3 has also been found to carry a small percentage of Neanderthal ancestry.

The researchers sequenced the girl's genome from a 2.5-cm-wide bone fragment originally found in 2012 within the Denisova cave-the only place where evidence of Denisovans has been found-of the Altai Mountains in Russian Federation.

Denisovans were probably dark-skinned, unlike the pale Neanderthals.

The findings were published online this week in the journal Nature.

A fragment of the bone of Denisova 11, the child of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father.

The sister groups are now understood to have diverged about 400,000 years ago, after their last common ancestor split with Homo sapiens at least 500,000 years ago.

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This suggests that between ancient human species do active crossing. Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA can still be found within modern humans considering that two were more closely related to each other than to Homo sapiens, it is hardly surprising that they were also mating.

"It is striking that we find this Neandertal/Denisovan child among the handful of ancient individuals whose genomes have been sequenced", Svante Pääbo, lead author of the study and director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, said in a statement.

The cave near Mongolia where the bone was found contains some remains attributed to Neanderthals as well as Denisovans. There was just as much Denisovan DNA in the bone.

Denisova 11 wasn't the only hybrid human in her family: Inverse's Sarah Sloat reports that the girl's father had at least one Neanderthal ancestor, providing evidence of yet another interspecies coupling.

Paabo said it is not possible to figure out why the Neanderthals traveled, or when, until more genomes are discovered.

Broader interbreeding may have gained momentum when modern humans emerged from Africa roughly 70,000 years ago.

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Neanderthals and Denisovans might have intermingled even more but for the fact that the former settled mostly in Europe, and the latter in central and East Asia, the researchers speculated. Recent archaeological digs suggest they reached Australia as early as 65,000 years ago.

Today, around two percent of DNA in non-Africans across the globe originates from humans' Neanderthal ancestors.

Our own DNA provides evidence that those early modern humans interbred with Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Paabo wonders if it is a coincidence that these branches of humanity vanished from the fossil record shortly after modern humans showed up in their territories.

Both groups disappeared some 40,000 years ago.

"Maybe Neanderthals and Denisovans were absorbed into the modern human populations", said Paabo.

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