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Oldest Human DNA Contains Clues to Mysterious Species

4 December 2013 1:15 pm
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Line of descent. This skeleton of a proto-Neandertal was one of 28 individuals found in a bone pit in Spain, including one that provided the oldest human DNA sequenced so far.

Javier Trueba/Madrid Scientific Films

Line of descent. This skeleton of a proto-Neandertal was one of 28 individuals found in a bone pit in Spain, including one that provided the oldest human DNA sequenced so far.

Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and thought to have lived across Asia. Now, traces of them have turned up in an unexpected place—Spain. In a technical feat, researchers sequenced the oldest human DNA yet, retrieving an almost complete mitochondrial genome from a 300,000- to 400,000-year-old sliver of human bone found in Spain's Atapuerca Mountains. To their surprise, this proto-Neandertal yielded ancestral Denisovan DNA.

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