During a recent meeting on ancient DNA at the Roya Society of London, research was revealed regarding analysis of the human genome. This study uncovered evidence that modern humans not only interbred with Neanderthals, but also with Denisovians and an unknown archaic human population.
Ewen Callaway of the journal Nature reports that the genome sequences of Neanderthal and Denisovian man were compared, and the results suggested that there was interbreeding among several groups of hominid in Europe and Asia around 30,000 years ago, which included an as-yet-unidentified ancestor from Asia.
A Complex Heritage.
“What it begins to suggest is that we’re looking at a Lord of the Rings-type world — that there were many hominid populations,” says Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London who was at the meeting but was not involved in the work.
David Reich, a geneticist who worked on previous studies finding links between modern humans and Neanderthal and Denisovian populations, said that the findings shed new light on those previous discoveries. Previous conclusions had been based on low-quality samples with errors and gaps in the genome sequences.
His team has now produced sequences for those two species which rival the completeness of the currently mapped modern human genome.
What was not expected of the Denisovian genome in particular was that it indicated the group ‘got around.’ At the meeting, Reich stated that there was evidence of breeding with populations from Oceana and China as well as Neanderthals and modern humans in East Asia. What was most surprising to him, though, was to find evidence of DNA from an as-yet-undiscovered human ancestor.
The meeting was ‘abuzz with conjecture’ about this unknown pre-human population. Natural History Museum in London paleoanthropologist was quoted saying:
“We don’t have the faintest idea.”