Neanderthals Weren’t Humans’ Only Mating Partners. Meet the Denisovans.

By Charles Q. Choi

The mysterious extinct human lineage known as the Denisovans may have interbred with modern humans in at least two separate waves, a new study finds.

The discovery suggests a more diverse evolutionary history than previously thought between Denisovans and modern humans.

Although modern humans are now the only human lineage left alive, others not only lived alongside modern humans, but even interbred with them, leaving behind DNA in the modern human genome. Such lineages not only included the Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, but also the mysterious Denisovans, known only from molars and a finger bone unearthed in the Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in Siberia.

Previous research found that while Denisovans shared a common origin with Neanderthals, they were nearly as genetically distinct from Neanderthals as Neanderthals were from modern humans. Prior work also found Denisovans contributed DNA to several modern human groups — about 5 percent of their DNA to the genomes of people in Oceania, and about 0.2 percent to the genomes of mainland Asians and Native Americans.

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