Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Entire Genome of Extinct Human Decoded From Fossil

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, has completed the genome sequence of a Denisovan, a representative of an Asian group of extinct humans related to Neandertals.
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.

The Leipzig team has now developed sensitive novel techniques which have allowed them to sequence every position in the Denisovan genome about 30 times over, using DNA extracted from less than 10 milligrams of the finger bone. The now-completed version of the genome allows even the small differences between the copies of genes that this individual inherited from its mother and father to be distinguished. This Wednesday the Leipzig group makes the entire Denisovan genome sequence available for the scientific community over the internet.

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.

The group plans to present a paper describing the genome later this year. “But we want to make it freely available to everybody already now” says Pääbo. “We believe that many scientists will find it useful in their research”.

The genome is available at and as a Public Data Set via Amazon Web Services (AWS):