In 2010, Svante Pääbo and his colleagues presented a draft version of the genome from a small fragment of a human finger bone discovered in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia. The DNA sequences showed that this individual came from a previously unknown group of extinct humans that have become known as Denisovans. Together with their sister group the Neandertals, Denisovans are the closest extinct relatives of currently living humans.
Svante Pääbo? Oh yes, he’s the one who told The Edge that
As an outsider to paleontologists, I’m often rather surprised about how much scientists fight in paleontology. And I am thinking about why that is the case. Why do we have less vicious fights in molecular biology, for example? I suppose the reason is that paleontology is a rather data-poor science. There are probably more paleontologists than there are important fossils in the world. To make a name for yourself is to find a new interpretation for those fossils that are extant. This always goes against some earlier person’s interpretation, who will not like it very much.
But in paleontology you can’t decide what you will find. You can not in most cases go out and test your hypothesis in a directed way. It’s almost like social anthropology or politics — you can only win by somehow yelling louder than the other person or sounding more convincing.
The big news, of course, is that there probably wasn’t a separate Neandertal or Denisovan “species” just a different group of humans (Pääbo was involved with the analysis). Straw in the wind: Paleontologists have been in no hurry to try to claim that the Denisovans are a separate species, and seem stuck for a term that works. Suggestions are doubtless welcome.
The genome represents the first high-coverage, complete genome sequence of an archaic human group – a leap in the study of extinct forms of humans. “We hope that biologists will be able to use this genome to discover genetic changes that were important for the development of modern human culture and technology, and enabled modern humans to leave Africa and rapidly spread around the world, starting around 100,000 years ago” says Pääbo. The genome is also expected to reveal new aspects of the history of Denisovans and Neandertals. – “Entire genome of extinct human decoded from fossil” (Physorg, February 7, 2012)
“Genetic changes that were important for the development of modern human culture and technology”? That should be good for a lot of speculation …
See also: Human evolution: Neandertals and Denisovans differ as much as the most extreme variation among modern humans
Mysterious Denisovans were just us? In furs?
Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista