Face of ancient ancestor revealed for first time by DNA reconstruction
Face of ancient ancestor revealed for first time by DNA reconstruction
See the face of your 100,000-year-old ancestor
21 September, 2019, 19:20
Reconstructed Profile of the Denisovan Skull.
We first came across the Denisovans in 2008, when the aforementioned pinky bone, dated as being between 74,000 and 82,000 years old, was found in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia.
"We provide the first reconstruction of the skeletal anatomy of Denisovans", said study author Liran Carmel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.
Confident their method was working, they set about predicting what a Denisovan might have looked like. "This is exciting work, pushing the boundaries of what can be gleaned from ancient genomes".
Neanderthals migrated into regions where Denisovans lived, said Erella Hovers, a prehistoric archeology professor at the Hebrew University. Not all the features uncovered by the HUJI scientists are skull features. Some 34 of the features were in the skull, with experts noting that Denisovans' skulls were likely wider than those of humans and Neanderthals. Recently, a Denisovan jaw fragment at least 16,000 years old was reported from in China.
The evidence suggests that Denisovans likely shared Neanderthal traits such as an elongated face and a wide pelvis.
Scientists have, for the first time, determined what the archaic humans Denisovans looked like.
From their genome, we know that Denisovans split off from the Neanderthals around 400,000 years ago, and that at various times they interbred with both the Neanderthals and members of our own species.
Denisovans lived alongside modern humans and Neanderthals 100,000 years ago, but until now, their appearance remained a mystery It's one of the most mysterious human ancestors in history, and now scientists have revealed what the Denisovans might have looked like. To discern distinct anatomical features, the researchers used a genetic technique known as DNA methylation mapping - a process that required three years of "intense work", said Carmel. Rather than relying on DNA sequences, they extracted anatomical information from gene activity patterns.
The researchers compared the DNA methylation patterns against three hominin groups looking for genomes that were methylated differentially.
Although Carmel said, "Using our method directly for forensic application is now not possible", because it is created to study differences outside the variability of modern humans and police would need to find features within that variability, "DNA methylation may provide much information that could help the police". "In doing so, we got a prediction as to what skeletal parts are affected by differential regulation of each gene and in what direction that skeletal part would change-for example, a longer or shorter femur bone", study co-author David Gokhman, Ph.D. explained.
When DNA experiences chemical modifications that affect the gene's expression, or activity, but not the base DNA coding, it is said to be methylated.
In total, the research team was able to predict 56 anatomical features that were different between Denisovans and either modern humans, Neanderthals or both. They then tested the method on two species whose anatomy is known: the Neanderthal and the chimpanzee and found that roughly 85pc of the trait reconstructions were accurate.
The reconstructions were just the start in Denisovan research, Prof Carmel said. And the reconstruction is that of a young female Denisovan.
"There is still a long way to go to answer these questions", Carmel noted. "But I think they would".
Based on ancient DNA methylation patterns, a portrait of a juvenile female Denisovan has been recreated. Image credit: Maayan Harel. As expected, most of the signs resembled those of Neanderthals, including a strong jaw, a low forehead, a large chest and wide hips.
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