Researchers report new DNA sequences of two Denisovan hominin bone specimens recovered from the Denisova Cave in Siberia. In 2010, the nuclear genome sequence of a finger bone, Denisova 3, found in Denisova Cave in Siberia identified the bone as belonging to a previously unknown group of hominins distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans, called Denisovans. Two putative Denisovan molars, Denisova 4 and Denisova 8, have also been found in Denisova Cave. Svante Pääbo and colleagues sequenced the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from both molars. Both of the Denisova molars are larger than either Neanderthal or early modern human molars, and lack features typical of Neanderthal or early modern human molars. Analysis of nuclear DNA sequences suggests that all three specimens belonged to the same phylogenetic group, and supports the idea that this group was distinct from Neanderthals and modern humans. The authors used mtDNA from the three Denisova specimens to infer their relative ages. The mtDNA of Denisova 8 has accumulated fewer mutations than the mtDNA of either Denisova 3 or Denisova 4, suggesting that Denisova 8 is significantly older than the other two specimens, possibly by as much as 60,000 years. The age difference between Denisova 8 and the other two specimens suggests that Denisovans inhabited the region around Denisova Cave for an extended period of time, according to the authors.
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Entrance to Denisova Cave, Siberia. Credit: Image courtesy of Bence Viola.
Denisova 3 finger bone. Credit: Image courtesy of Bence Viola.
Denisova 3 finger bone next to a penny for scale. Credit: Image courtesy of Bence Viola.
Denisova 4 molar. Credit: Image courtesy of Bence Viola.
Denisova 8 molar, top view. Credit: Image courtesy of Bence Viola.
Denisova 8 molar, side view. Credit: Image courtesy of Bence Viola.
Source: Edited from the subject press release of the PNAS.
Article: “Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA sequences from two Denisovan individuals,” by Susanna Sawyer et al.
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