Ancient Incest Uncovered in Neanderthal Genome

In 2010, the study’s toe bone first turned up at Denisova Cave, where excellent fossil preservation conditions had allowed for the genetic mapping of the then-surprising Denisovan finger bone found in 2008. Gene tests showed the toe belonged to a Neanderthal, and Prüfer and colleagues began calculating its full genetic map.

The results show that it belonged to a woman whose closely matched chromosomes suggest that her parents were closely related, perhaps half-siblings or an uncle and niece (or aunt and nephew).

Over time, such inbreeding has been shown to be bad for the genetic fitness of most species, including people, throughout the animal world.

(Only 96 genes responsible for making proteins in cells are different between modern humans and Neanderthals. Intriguingly, some of the gene differences involve ones involved in both immune responses and the development of brain cells in people.)

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New Questions about Evolution

According to the Times, Denisovans were previously believed to have lived only in East Asia. They were also not believed to carry such a resemblance to Neanderthals. “Now we have to rethink the whole story,” Juan Luis Arsuaga, a co-author of the paper, tells the Times.

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DNA from a cave in Russia adds a mysterious new member to the human family

…another breed of the same human species…

In the back of the cave is a small side chamber, and it was there that a young Russian archaeologist named Alexander Tsybankov was digging one day in July 2008, in deposits believed to be 30,000 to 50,000 years old, when he came upon a tiny piece of bone. It was hardly promising: a rough nubbin about the size and shape of a pebble you might shake out of your shoe. Later, after news of the place had spread, a paleoanthropologist I met at Denisova described the bone to me as the “most unspectacular fossil I’ve ever seen. It’s practically depressing.” Still, it was a bone. Tsybankov bagged it and put it in his pocket to show a paleontologist back at camp.

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