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by Diego Balmaceda

Fossil genome shows hybrid of two extinct species of human

A team of scientists has announced remains of a human girl from about 50 thousand years ago had one Neanderthal parent and one Denisovan parent, two different species of humans, both species now extinct. The results, from genomic tests in Leipzig, Germany of fossil bone from Siberia, Russia, were published on Wednesday in scientific journal Nature.  The researchers said this is the first discovery of a child with parents of different human species.

The single fossilized bone fragment, about two centimetres (less than an inch) long, which researchers said was from a girl at least 13 years old, was found in 2012 in the Denisova Cave in Siberia.  The Denisovan species of humans is only directly known  from the same cave, where it was discovered in 2011; the cave is also  the only site where both Nenderthal and Denisovan remains have been  found.  Neanderthals have been found in Europe and Asia.  Traces of  genes from both species occur in some modern humans.  Researchers found  the nuclear DNA in this bone fragment was split fairly evenly between both species, while the mitochondrial DNA was Neanderthal; nuclear DNA comes from both parents, while  mitochondrial DNA comes only from the mother, so they concluded the  girl's mother was Neanderthal and her father Denisovan.

Lead author on the study Viviane Slon, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig, said:

We knew from previous studies that Neanderthals and Denisovans must have  occasionally had children together [...] But I never thought we would  be so lucky as to find an actual offspring of the two groups.

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