Palaeogeneticists Viviane Slon and Svante Paabo at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology carried out genome analysis on a bone taken from the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Russian Federation. Neanderthals and Denisovans are closely related, but distinct groups of ancient humans.
The bone fragment in fact came from a girl who had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father, The Independent reports.
Neanderthals and Denisovans, the closest extinct relatives of modern human, are hominins that separated from each other more than 390,000 years ago.
"When you find a needle in a haystack, you have to start wondering if what you're really looking at is a needlestack", John Hawks, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who was not involved in the study, tellsThe Atlantic's Zhang. She began by hunting for a special set of genes found in the fuel-generating factories of the cell, called mitochondria.
Scientists have been aware of breeding between different human groups, including between Denisovans and Homo Sapiens, thanks to variation among humans. The very first Denisovan fossil we discovered was just 10 years ago, and consisted of one pinkie finger.
The bone fragment shaking up the world of science was discovered there in 2012 and it has helped scientists understand that not only was interbreeding happening, it was happening a lot. Since mitochondrial DNA is only inherited from the mother, it means that the mother was Neanderthal, which means that the father was a Denisovan.
This might be because we only discovered the Denisovans in 2010, and have so few fossils to work that we don't even know what they looked like.
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