Mitochondrial genome of a 400,000-year-old representative of the genus Homo sequenced
Thursday, 05 December 2013
This is a skeleton of a Homo heidelbergensis
from Sima de los Huesos, a unique cave site in
Northern Spain. Credit: Javier Trueba, Madrid
Sima de los Huesos (SH), the "bone pit", is a cave site in Northern Spain that has yielded the world's largest assembly of Middle Pleistocene hominine fossils, consisting of at least 28 skeletons, which have been excavated and pieced together over the course of more than two decades by a Spanish team of palaeontologists led by Juan-Luis Arsuaga. The fossils are classified as Homo heidelbergensis but also carry traits typical of Neanderthals. Until now it had not been possible to study the DNA of these unique hominines.
Matthias Meyer at work in the clean lab.
Credit: Max Planck Institute for
The Sima de los Huesos hominines lived
approximately 400,000 years ago during the
Middle Pleistocene. Credit: Javier Trueba,
Madrid Scientific Films.
"The fact that the mtDNA of the Sima de los Huesos hominine shares a common ancestor with Denisovan rather than Neanderthal mtDNAs is unexpected since its skeletal remains carry Neanderthal-derived features", says Matthias Meyer.
Considering their age and Neanderthal-like features, the Sima hominines were likely related to the population ancestral to both Neanderthals and Denisovans. Another possibility is that gene flow from yet another group of hominines brought the Denisova-like mtDNA into the Sima hominines or their ancestors.
"Our results show that we can now study DNA from human ancestors that are hundreds of thousands of years old. This opens prospects to study the genes of the ancestors of Neanderthals and Denisovans. It is tremendously exciting" says Svante Pääbo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Prof. Juan Luis Arsuaga, Director of the Centro
Mixto de Evolución and Compòrtamiento
Humanos in Madrid, Spain. Credit: Javier
Trueba, Madrid Scientific Films.
Contact: Dr. Matthias Meyer
A mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominine from Sima de los Huesos
Matthias Meyer, Qiaomei Fu, Ayinuer Aximu-Petri, Isabelle Glocke, Birgit Nickel, Juan-Luis Arsuaga, Ignacio Martínez, Ana Gracia, José María Bermúdez de Castro, Eudald Carbonell and Svante Pääbo
Nature, 4 December 2013, DOI: 10.1038/nature12788
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