Science

Incredible discovery of cave girl whose parents were different species

Incredible discovery of cave girl whose parents were different species

Palaeogeneticists Viviane Slon and Svante Pääbo at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology carried out genome analysis on a bone taken from the Denisova cave in Russia's Altai Mountains.

Meet, Denny. Scientists are stunned to find that this 90,000-year-old hybrid teenager is the child of an interspecies relationship between a Neanderthal and Denisovan.

And they appear to have hooked up a lot more often than we thought, said David Lambert from the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffith University, who was not involved in the research. And just recently, according to a new study in Nature, an archaeologist picked it up. And this occurred 20,000 years later than the Neanderthals living in the cave.

While Neanderthals were found across Europe, the Near East and central Asia, the Denisovans are thought to have lived in East and South Asia, although there was clearly some overlap in their ranges.

Denisova 11, as the newly discovered bone fragment is called, offers compelling clues into our own evolutionary history.

Scientists confirmed Denny came from two separate hominins - and not two hybrids - by looking at where the genomes between Neanderthals and Denisovans differ.

Neanderthal, Denisovans, and modern humans all shared a common ancestor more than 400,000 years ago.

But this is the first time a first-generation offspring from the pairing has been discovered.

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On the other hand, Denny's genome also revealed that her father had hints of Neanderthal ancestry as well.

The researchers looked at the mitochondrial DNA, which can only be inherited from your mother, to determine which parent belonged to which species. Having babies gave their family a desire to return to the old paths - to nourish their family with traditional, homegrown foods; rid their home of toxic chemicals and petroleum products; and give their boys a chance to know a simple, sustainable way of life.

"An interesting aspect of this genome is that it allows us to learn things about two populations - the Neandertals from the mother's side, and the Denisovans from the father's side", explained Fabrizio Mafessoni from the MPI-EVA who co-authored the study.

During DNA sequencing of the bones discovered at the site, the researchers noticed that half of the chromosomes in Denisova 11 were similar to those of the other Denisovans and half of them were closer to those of the Neanderthals. He also thinks that it is possible that hybrid offsprings had reproductive disorders and had fewer children than those without the mixed DNA.

But their dalliances with modern humans left their mark.

Today, around two percent of DNA in non-Africans across the globe originates from humans' Neanderthal ancestors. This could end up supporting the idea that both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans interbred with humans to the point where they ceased to exist as a species, though further evidence is needed before we can prove that. This is the first proof that both groups had intermingled and had children before they went extinct.

On the other hand, lead author of the study Svante Pääbo believed encounters between the two species would have been rare, since Neanderthals were known to live across western Eurasia, while Denisovans have mostly stuck to their cave in Russian Federation, as far as scientists now know.