Teeth reveal past: Ancient Tooth DNA

Published: November 18, 2015

Teeth reveal past: Ancient Tooth DNA, Their analysis pushes back the oldest known evidence for Denisovans by 60,000 years, suggesting that the species was able to thrive in harsh climates for thousands of generations. The results also suggest that the Denisovans may have bred with other ancient hominins, relatives of modern humans whom science has yet to discover.

Todd Disotell, a molecular anthropologist at New York University who was not involved in the new study, said the report added to growing evidence that our species kept company with many near relatives over the past million years. The world, Dr. Disotell said, “was a lot like Middle-earth.”

“There you’ve got elves and dwarves and hobbits and orcs,” he continued. On the real earth, “we had a ton of hominins that are closely related to us.”

Before the latest discovery, Denisovans were known only from DNA in another tooth and a finger bone found in the cave in 2008. Analysis had shown them to be at least 50,000 years old.

In 2010, Dr. Derevianko and his colleagues reported that the genetic material in the bone and the tooth belonged to the same lineage of hominins, which they called Denisovans.

With virtually no bones to study, scientists struggle to guess what the Denisovans were like. Their closest relatives were the Neanderthals, those stocky, big-brained hominins who hunted big game in Europe and western Asia 300,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Scientists estimate that Neanderthals and Denisovans diverged on the human family tree 400,000 years ago.

Since their initial discoveries, the Russian researchers have sifted through more bone fragments from Denisova. In 2013, the scientists reported the discovery of a Neanderthal toe bone in the cave with enough DNA to reconstruct the entire genome.

The newest batch of Denisovan DNA comes from a tooth discovered in 2010. Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues described it in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new tooth, called Denisova 8, yielded only a modest amount of DNA. But the scientists gathered enough to draw some important conclusions.

Ancient Tooth DNA


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