Denny publication: the daughter of a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father

In 2016 we published our paper on the discovery, using ZooMS, of Denisova 11, or Denny, work that was undertaken as part of Sam Brown's MSc dissertation (read about it here). This involved screening thousands of bones from several archaeological layers at the site in a search for hominin remains. The first bone that was found yielded a Neanderthal mtDNA genome, with the paper published in Scientific Reports in 2016.

Our colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany then sequenced the nuclear genome of the bone fragment and this week we published in the journal Nature. Together with their sister group the Neanderthals, Denisovans are the closest extinct relatives of currently living humans. Incredibly the result of the genomic analysis indicated a roughly 50-50 split in the genome, with half coming from a (male) Denisovan and half coming from the (female) Neanderthal. The results also show that the mother was genetically closer to Neanderthals who lived in western Europe than to a Neanderthal individual that lived earlier in Denisova Cave. This shows that Neanderthals migrated between western and eastern Eurasia tens of thousands of years before their disappearance.

Analyses of the genome also revealed that the Denisovan father had at least one Neanderthal ancestor further back in his family tree. It is possible, therefore, to detect multiple instances of interactions between Neandertals and Denisovans. Neandertals and Denisovans may not have had many opportunities to meet and when they did it appears they must have mated frequently – much more so than we previously thought. However, their genomes are measurably different and so it looks as though they must have remained essentially separate populations, only having geneflow when they met and interbred.

The paper will be formally published in Nature on September 6.

The search for hominin bones continues as part of PalaeoChron, and it's sister project FINDER, led by Katerina Douka.

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