Russian and foreign paleogenetics extracted DNA from the remains of ancient people found six years ago in the Denisova cave in Altai, and found that some of them were "hybrids" of Neanderthals and "Denisovans". Their findings were presented in the journal Nature.
“We already knew that Neanderthals and Denisovans had to contact each other and periodically leave offspring. On the other hand, I personally never thought that we would be so lucky and we would find the remains of a child whose father was a Denisovan and whose mother was a Neanderthal woman, "said Vivien Slon of the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. (Germany).
In December 2010, the famous paleogeneticist Svante Paabo announced the discovery of a "third" species of people, whose remains - one knuckle - were found in the Russian Denisova Cave in Altai. This discovery was made thanks to the "resurrection" of fragments of the genome, preserved in three fragments of the bones of an ancient man - the phalangeal bone of the finger and two teeth found in the cave.
As scientists initially believed, the "Denisovans" they found were relatives of the Neanderthals who lived in the cave about 50 thousand years ago. Subsequently, it turned out that the "Denisovites" arose much earlier than scientists assumed, and were a separate subspecies of people. Traces of their DNA remained in the genomes of modern Polynesians, Indians of South America and a number of peoples of Southeast Asia.
Paabo and his colleagues, including Academician Anatoly Derevyanko and Mikhail Shunkov from the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, found in the Altai cave not only teeth from which the Denisovan gene was extracted, but also two thousand other bones, presumably belonging to Neanderthals.
Scientists gradually analyzed these remains, extracting DNA from them and comparing them with the genomes of other ancient people. In one of these bones, "Denisova 11", which belonged to a 13-year-old teenage girl who died about 90 thousand years ago, they were in for a big surprise.
On the one hand, scraps of mitochondrial DNA passed from mother to her children indicated that the owner of these remains was a Neanderthal. On the other hand, when scientists resurrected the rest of this girl's genome, they found traces of both Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in it in roughly equal proportions - 38% and 42%.
Comparing pairs of chromosomes, scientists found that in most cases one of them contained only Denisovan genes, and the second - their Neanderthal counterparts. This indicated that the parents of this girl belonged to different types of ancient people, and were not "hybrids" like herself. Accordingly, her dad was a Denisovite, and her mother was a Neanderthal woman.
Her parents, as noted by Paabo and his colleagues, had an unusual life history and background. For example, the girl's father was not a pure Denisovite. In the distant past, 300-600 generations ago, his ancestors had already come into contact with Neanderthals, which left small blotches of their DNA in his genome.
The girl's mother, in turn, turned out to be an "immigrant" - she was closer in DNA structure to the Neanderthals who lived in the Croatian cave Vindia than to Homo neanderthalensis who lived in Altai and Central Asia.
“Of course, Neanderthals and Denisovans lived in different regions of the Earth and they, most likely, could rarely collide with each other. But when such meetings took place, these people seem to have made frequent contacts and left offspring - much more often than we previously thought,”concludes Paabo.