- Title: Scientists reconstruct skeleton of elusive, pre-historic human
- Date: 19th September 2019
- Summary: JERUSALEM (SEPTEMBER 19, 2019) (REUTERS) ARTIST'S RENDERING OF A BUST OF A DENISOVAN GIRL UNVEILED BUST
- Embargoed: 3rd October 2019 14:21
- Keywords: Denisovan Neanderthal humans science cave DNA genetics anatomy
- Location: JERUSALEM/GRAPHICS
- City: JERUSALEM/GRAPHICS
- Country: Israel
- Topics: Science
- Reuters ID: LVA001AXBQJIF
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Researchers in Israel say they have reconstructed the skeleton of a pre-historic human from a long-extinct and elusive species using DNA found in the pinky bone of a 13-year-old girl who died 70,000 years ago.
Little is known about the Denisovans, who were ancient relatives of the more familiar Neanderthals and our own species. Their existence was only recently discovered and has fascinated scientists worldwide.
Evidence was first uncovered in 2008 in a cave in Siberia and today it includes only three teeth, a pinky bone and a lower jaw, said Hebrew University genetics professor Liran Carmel.
It sounds like science fiction, but Carmel said that was enough to depict a full Denisovan skeleton.
"This is the first time that we provide a detailed anatomical reconstruction showing us what these humans looked like," he said.
It turns out, Carmel said, "we are all very similar."
His team developed a technology to decipher the ancient DNA and, more importantly, its gene activity. Gene activity, for example, differentiates between a frog and tadpole, even though their DNA is identical, Carmel said.
DNA could indicate the Denisovan's dark skin, eyes and hair, Carmel said, but by mapping gene activity patterns, they could infer how the species stood out from modern humans or Neanderthals anatomically. They identified 56 traits, most in the skull, that differed.
This helped them produce a rendering - claiming 85% accuracy - of a Denisovan skeleton that at first glance looks like it could be from a modern human, though differences are obvious on closer inspection.
There were similarities to Neanderthals - a sloping forehead, long face and large pelvis - but the Denisovan were also unique in their very wide skull and large dental arch.
The skeletal reconstruction, along with an artist's rendering of the 13-year-old girl's head and face, were published in the journal Cell.
The team repeated the process as a test on Neanderthals and chimpanzees, whose anatomies are known, and found the reconstruction to be 85% accurate. The discovery of more Denisovan DNA would further improve the rendering.
Some far-flung modern Asian populations possess small but significant amounts of DNA derived from Denisovans, suggesting they had a broad geographical presence.
Research suggests that Denisovan DNA may have contributed to modern Tibetan's ability to live in high altitudes and the Inuits' ability to withstand freezing temperatures.
(Production: Ari Rabinovich, Rinat Harash, Dedi Hayun)
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