Sunday, December 26, 2010

Distinct Group of "Archaic" Humans Discovered

Human genealogy appears to be more complex then previously thought. (via)

"Razib Khan has been dropping hints that some big story about human evolution was about to break. Finally the official announcements are here and it is quite a story. "Archaic" humans separate from Neanderthals bred with some human populations and some humans alive today carry some of their genes. Is that cool or what?

Researchers have discovered evidence of a distinct group of "archaic" humans existing outside of Africa more than 30,000 years ago at a time when Neanderthals are thought to have dominated Europe and Asia. But genetic testing shows that members of this new group were not Neanderthals, and they interbred with the ancestors of some modern humans who are alive today.

Well, if two such groups are possible is there a third group waiting to be identified? In theory we should be able to detect the presence of other lost groups that inbred with humans by sequencing the genomes of every human population. Look for sequences that seem out of place. Super cheap DNA sequencing will make that possible. What secrets lurk in the genes of Andaman Islanders, the Ainu of Hokkaido Japan, the Eskimos, or the Australian Aborigines?

Fossils of these Denisovans were found in a cave in Siberia.

The journal Nature reported the finding this week. The National Science Foundation's Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division partially funded the research.

An international team of scientists led by Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, used a combination of genetic data and dental analysis to identify a previously unknown population of early humans, whom the researchers call "Denisovans." The name was taken from Denisova Cave in southern Siberia where archaeologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences recovered a bone in 2008.

The finger bone of a girl provided the needed DNA sample."

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