November 2, 2011
An extinct species of human being that lived in Siberia more than 40,000 years ago may not be so extinct after all. Scientists have found genetic traces of the ancient Denisovans in the DNA of present-day people living in East Asia.
The Denisovans lived in and around Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains of eastern Russia and were thought to have gone extinct due to competition with the only human species to survive to this day – Homo sapiens. However, a genetic analysis of the genome of some 1,500 people have found that unique features of the Denisovans’ DNA are shared today with people from East Asia.
Mattias Jakobsson of Uppsala University in Sweden, who led the study, said the implications were that ancestors of modern-day East Asians must have interbred at some point in the past with the Denisovans before they went extinct. “The Denisovans … were probably more related to the Neanderthals than to modern humans. However, our study indicates that they managed to interbreed with modern human ancestors and produce fertile offspring,” Dr Jakobsson said.