New developments in the extraction and analysis of ancient DNA have transformed our understanding of the interactions between modern humans and some of their archaic relatives. We know now that these groups exchanged genes when they met, as we find small pieces of Neanderthal DNA in present day humans. Another surprising discovery was that Asia was inhabited by a previously unknown group related to Neanderthals, named the Denisovans after the site of Denisova in the Russian Altai.
Dr. Viola has been involved in this research for more than 10 years, and this summer he and his colleagues made another unexpected discovery. Among the tens of thousands of unidentifiable bone fragments from Denisova cave, collagen fingerprinting identified a piece that seemed to be human. DNA analyses at the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig showed that this individual was neither a Denisovan, nor a Neanderthal, but carried DNA from both groups in roughly equal proportions. We knew before that both Neanderthals and Denisovans lived in the region, but we had no direct evidence for contacts. This individual, the daughter of a Neanderthal mother and Denisovan father shows that these populations interacted. Many questions remain though: how did these contacts look? Were they peaceful, or not? Were we just unbelievably lucky to have found this individual, or are there many hybrids out there? Hopefully the continuing research will allow us to answer at least some of these questions.
Read the full article in the CBC News