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Oldest DNA Found of Humans, but It Still Has Neanderthal Link

Image: Oldest DNA Found of Humans, but It Still Has Neanderthal Link

Rendition of Neanderthal caveman at Natural History Museum in London. (Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Wednesday, 16 Mar 2016 06:54 AM

The oldest DNA ever found from an ancient human, taken from bones dating back more than 425,000 years, showed a strong connection with Neanderthals and is revising estimates of when human ancient predecessors split from them, according to the science journal Nature.

Matthias Meyer, a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, decoded 0.1 percent of genome from the DNA to find the link, said Nature. The DNA was taken from bones found in a cavern in northern Spain.

"Starting such a thing is already very ambitious, and managing it is even more impressive," Ludovic Orlando, an ancient-DNA researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, told Nature. "We are really reaching the limits of what is possible."

A 2013 analysis of bones found in the northern Spain site, called Sima de los Huesos, or "pit of bones," showed a maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA, distantly related to Denisovans, extinct relatives of Neanderthals in Asia, according to a Max Planck Institute statement. 

"This was unexpected since their skeletal remains carry Neanderthal-derived features," said the institute. "… The results now show that the Sima de los Huesos hominins were indeed early Neanderthals. Neanderthals may have acquired different mitochondrial genomes later, perhaps as the result of gene flow from Africa."

The BBC News said that the ancient but well-preserved bones were discovered in Spain about three decades ago. Chris Stringer, from London's Natural History Museum, said the DNA results give a new narrative for when human diverged from a common ancestor.

"There has been continuing debate about how deep in time the Neanderthal-sapiens split was, with estimates ranging from about 800,000 years to 300,000 years," Stringer told BBC News. "I have recently favored a split time of about 400,000, and have argued for many years that the widespread species H. heidelbergensis at about 500,000 was probably their last common ancestor."

"When new genetic data are used to recalibrate divergence times, these now suggest older split times both between the Neanderthals and Denisovans (approximately 450,000 years) and their lineage and ours (approximately 650,000 years)."

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The oldest DNA ever found from an ancient human, taken from bones dating back more than 425,000 years, showed a strong connection with Neanderthals and is revising estimates of when human ancient predecessors split from them.
oldest, human, dna, found, neanderthal, link
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2016-54-16
Wednesday, 16 Mar 2016 06:54 AM
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