Denisov DNA found in the genome of East Asian aborigines

In 2006, miners discovered a cranial vault of a hominin in the Salkhit Valley of eastern Mongolia with peculiar

morphological features. Initially he was called Mongolanthropus, was considered a Neanderthal or even Homo erectus. The Salkhit remains are the only Pleistocene hominin fossil found in the country.

Ancient DNA extracted from the cranial vaultshows that it belonged to a modern woman. She lived 34,000 years ago and was more associated with Asians than Europeans. Comparison to the only other person from East Asia genetically studied to date, a 40,000-year-old male from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, China, shows that the two people are related. However, they differ in that a quarter of the ancestors of the individual Salkhites descended from Western Eurasians, probably as a result of mixing with the ancient Siberians.

“This is direct evidence that modernhuman communities in East Asia were already quite cosmopolitan even earlier than 34,000 years ago, ”said Diyendo Massilani, lead author of the study and fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. "This rare specimen shows that migration and interactions between populations in Eurasia often took place as early as 35,000 years ago."

Syahe Mandible. Credit: Menggang Qiu, Dongju Zhang, Lanzhou University

The researchers used a new methoddeveloped at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to find DNA segments of extinct hominins in the Salhit and Tianyuan genomes. They found that the two genomes contain not only the DNA of the Neanderthals, but also the DNA of the Denisovans, the elusive Asian relative of the Neanderthals. “It's great to see that the ancestors of the earliest humans in East Asia, from whom we were able to obtain genetic data, have already mixed with the Denisovans, an extinct form of hominins that has contributed to the modern population in Asia and Oceania,” says Byambaa Gunchinsuren, a researcher at the Institute of Archeology Mongolian Academy of Sciences. “This is direct evidence that Denisovans and modern people met and mixed more than 40,000 years ago.”

“It is interesting that fragments of Denisov's DNA in thesevery old East Asians overlap with Denisovan DNA fragments in the genomes of modern East Asians, but not with Denisovan DNA fragments in Oceanians. This supports the theory of multiple intersections between Denisovans and modern people, the scientists conclude.

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