Fossils Yield Oldest Known Human DNA

By Gemma Tarlach | December 4, 2013 12:00 pm

bone-analysis

Researchers have successfully sequenced the oldest known human DNA, and it points to unexpected relationships between hominid populations scattered across the length of Eurasia.

The genetic material came from a 400,000-year-old femur of Homo heidelbergensis, an early hominid considered to be the ancestor of both Neanderthals and modern humans. The achievement pushes back the age of the oldest hominid DNA sequencing by 200,000 years.

The site of the fossil’s discovery, Sima de los Huesos (“pit of bones”) in northern Spain, has yielded remains of more than two dozen individuals dated to older than 300,000 years. The skeletons found at Sima de los Huesos exhibit Neanderthal-derived traits, leading researchers to anticipate a strong relation to Homo neanderthalensis.

Denisovan Connection

But after sequencing an almost complete mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome from the femur, researchers discovered the individual was more closely related to Denisovans, eastern Eurasian hominids known only from a few fragments found at sites in Siberia. Although related to Neanderthals, Denisovans are considered genetically distinct, and are thought to have dispersed from Siberia to southeast Asia. By way of comparison, Neanderthals and modern humans are more closely related in their mitochondrial makeup than are Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Ancient DNA that can still be sequenced is usually found only in permafrost conditions; it typically degrades much faster in temperate and tropical zones, where early hominids lived. But the Sima de los Huesos cave site’s humidity and naturally controlled temperature created an environment conducive to mtDNA preservation of both early hominids and their contemporaries, including a cave bear, which researchers successfully sequenced earlier this year.

Mixing Populations

femur-groundThe team obtained about two grams of bone samples — less than a tenth of an ounce — from the femur and performed a number of tests to rule out contamination with modern genetic material. They then sequenced the mitochondrial DNA, because retrieving usable mtDNA is easier than collecting nuclear DNA from such an old specimen because several hundred copies of mtDNA exist in each cell. This makes it possible to piece together the mitochondrial genome even if many of the copies are degraded. Mitchondrial DNA is passed down from the individual’s mother, however, and does not provide as complete an evolutionary picture as nuclear DNA.

In light of the individual’s unexpected relatedness to Denisovans, the team proposed a number of possible scenarios for how the genes from a population known only in Siberia ended up in Spain. One of the most plausible, researchers suggested, was gene flow from another, as-yet-unknown but Denisovan-like hominid into the Sima de los Huesos group.

To support this theory, the team noted in their paper published today in Nature that a number of early hominid fossils found from the same time period across Asia, Europe and Africa have been classified as H. heidelbergensis, in many ways a catch-all lacking precise definition. It’s possible that some or all of these individuals may be an early hominid population as yet unclassified by science.

Images screenshot from video by Javier Trueba, Madrid Scientific Films

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, select
MORE ABOUT: genetics, human origins
  • Kjysten

    Fascinating – we are more alike – and more different than we know. However, the new data still puts the lie to cavemen riding dinosaurs!

    • Stephen Anderle

      Awww!

    • Jim Donivan

      no one but a child ever thought humans and dinosaurs coexisted.

      • Antonio Calabria

        Lots and lots of people do, because there’s no end to human stupidity. And that’s not mentioning the cult of ignorance inhe US…

      • Kjysten

        Obviously you haven’t been to the Fendamentalist museum. They have a diorama of a dinosaur wearing a saddle. Oh, wait, children….I get it.

      • temblor4

        And fundamentalist Christians…

  • Stephen Anderle

    Java Man!

    • Ann

      your desire to believe is greater then your desire to know.

      • Jim Donivan

        I’m with Ann on this one.

        • Hawkeye72

          You’re also a very uneducated person. Being an atheist does not make you an intellectual. In your case,you missed by miles.

          • temblor4

            Being an atheist also doesn’t make you a doctrinaire, uneducated, narrow minded bigot…

          • Antonio Calabria

            (If I may continue, for H72′s benefit)….who could have really benefited from a basic course in logic and a really, really simple, high school-level one in English comp…

          • Jim Donivan

            Says…who?

          • Scott Gourley

            This is why we need a new-age science that can explain the technical ‘stuff’ to the uneducated. You are being rude and elitist to someone who just wants to know because you could afford an education and he couldn’t. You are NOT a constructive observer/educator…….you’re an a**hole.

        • Hawkeye72

          I was just reading in my copy of Discover magazine that came today (no you won’t find it on line) about the Aurornis xui and wanted to get your opinion on….Oh wait,I forgot who I was speaking to. Let me ask another question more in your realm. Who was on Jerry Springer today?

      • Hawkeye72

        I don’t have a “desire to believe”–I already do. But I’m a little different. I don’t try to sway others because I believe it’s far too late for that. But I’m always amazed at how much atheists talk about God. Far more than believers do. He seems to haunt their minds 24 hours a day. If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ so be it. But why do atheists seem it’s necessary to ridicule Christians? Stupid,dumb,backwards. Maybe so but I would be willing to bet that my IQ is at least 40 points above this Donivan and Calabria whatever. As far as my desire to know,I would also bet that I’ve read far more than the three of you combined. Science books,Darwin’s theories, The works of Volta,Alan Turing,Pascal,Sagan-Hell I subscribe to “Discover” and “Smithstonian”. Two biology classes in college (just as electives). I kinow this destroys your dream that all who believe in our Lord is backward and stupid. I’m also a disabled veteran who participaed heavily in studying the half-life of low-ionizing radiation during Operation Dominic 1962 (If you care to look it up). Good luck,Ann.

        • temblor4

          We find it necessary to ridicule the far right, “Christians” who have no idea of the meaning of the word and yet feel they have the right to try to impose their ideas and beliefs on everyone else on the planet, although, when asked, they can’t explain any of it.

          • Jim Donivan

            Hear! Hear!

          • Hawkeye72

            Why don’t you copy and paste where I,as a Christian, said you should believe as I do. The truth is,atheists talk more about God than believers do. It’s as if He’s on your mind around the clock. Why is that? Now hold your breath until I try to impose my beliefs on you.

          • temblor4

            H 72, I know well over 100 atheists and we never discuss god other than when we are discussing something like how physically impossible every detail of the great flood was and how absurd it is to believe that a god who knows everything, including the future would create man in such a way that he had to sin because god already determined it was going to happen, then how that god killed everything on Earth in an impossible manner (according to the physical laws he designed – of course the believers can always counter that he just used magic to bypass his own physical laws). Then we discuss the foaming at the mouth right wing nut cases who still believe the story and believe they have the right to impose their beliefs and their wishes on the entire population (this not based on the beliefs of one individual, but the actions of the whole right wing fundamentalist christian religion.

            You also make a fundamental error in your reasoning, trying to say that just because you do something, that proves your case for everyone. An individual example proves nothing about the rest of the population, so your so righteous seeming argument is just hot air blowing in the wind.

        • Ann

          I don’t have a “desire to believe”–I already do. But I’m a little different. I don’t try to sway others because I believe it’s far too late for that. But I’m always amazed at how much atheists talk about God. Far more than believers do. He seems to haunt their minds 24 hours a day.

          Did even mention any gods in the statement ” your desire to believe is greater to know.”? Did I say I was an atheist?

          If you don’t believe in Jesus Christ so be it. But why do atheists seem it’s necessary to ridicule Christians? Stupid,dumb,backwards.

          You do know that most of the world religions do not believe in Jesus? Right? You have the right to believe in anything you wish, and I or any one else has the right to tell you what we think about them. Your are not giving the writers of this article a pass, why should we give you one?

          Maybe so but I would be willing to bet that my IQ is at least 40 points above this Donivan and Calabria whatever. As far as my desire to know,I would also bet that I’ve read far more than the three of you combined. Science books,Darwin’s theories, The works of Volta,Alan Turing,Pascal,Sagan-Hell I subscribe to “Discover” and “Smithstonian”. Two biology class es in co llege (just as electives). I kinow this destroys your dream that all who believe in our Lord is backward and stupid.

          So instead of giving reasons why you think this argument is not accurate, you make statements about the intelligence of not only Donivan and Calabria but the others who have made comments about your statements as well. You do not know what our IQs are, or what we have read. Though, it does not matter if you have read every book in the library of congress, if you can not explain or prove why you think (you notice I did not use the word believe) they are wrong.

          I’m also a disabled veteran who participaed heavily in studying the half-life of low-ionizing radiation during Operation Dominic 1962 (If you care to look it up).

          I am sorry for you were disabled, but I not sure what that has to do with the conversation? Are you saying that because you are a disabled veteran, we do not the right question your beliefs and ideas? How strange.

          • Hawkeye72

            Everything you’ve accused me of.you’re guilty of. I don’t care what you think of me as a disabled veteran. I was pointing out that I have been involved in scientific studies. It’s obvious that dumb and backwards doesn’t apply to me but yet I have deep faith in the Lord,Jesus Christ-You can question
            my beliefs all you want but I don’t question your atheist religion because I don’t care enough to question it.I believe that people like you and your
            buddies claim atheism because that will make other’s believe you are intelligent.You’re seeking approval of others which is something I don’t need or want.I’m happy when people like you are critical of me..Jesus said
            “in the last days you will be hated in my name”. And yes,I’m far smarter than all three of you combined. Again, good luck,Ann. I see no need in further debate.

          • Jim Donivan

            Congratulations!

          • Jim Donivan

            The statement implying we do not respect your sacrifice is a cheap ploy and fools no one.
            Shame on you!

          • Hawkeye72

            Please show me where I implied that you do not appreciate my sacrifice. What sacrifice? Others with me did but I’ve never made any sacrifice. On top of that , I couldn’t care less what you respect. Are you serious? You have the IQ of a dead slug. And what’s more Ann knows it as well. She will cry NO,NO! But she knows. Shame on you for leaving the house as moronic as you are.

          • temblor4

            Ah H72, insults are the mark of a person who is losing a discussion or argument and despite their firm belief in their position, have no information to support that position.

            They thus resort to inane comments and insults.

          • Hawkeye72

            I’m still waiting for you to paste and copy where I imply you do not respect my sacrifice. I can’t find it. Either paste and copy it for us to see or admit you’re a total failure at reading comprehension.

          • Hawkeye72

            If you still don’t get it have someone read it to you and explain.

          • Ann

            Yes there is not any debate. You have not answered any questions or made any statements that make sense to any one but you and people who agree with your view. It does not mean that you are right. So, I go back to my first statement: Your desire to believe is greater than your desire to know.

          • Hawkeye72

            And your desire to have others that think as you do think well of you prevents you from thinking for yourself. But these people will deny you in the end. Morons like Donivan will say,no,no-I never agreed with her. He’s weak as others of his ilk are. As far as your questions you haven’t asked me any worthwhile questions. All you’ve done is ridicule. And let me say it again because you don’t seem to grasp that I really don’t care what you think of me. And let me repeat this: I have no “desire to believe”. I already believe.

          • Antonio Calabria

            And that’s only a small part of your problem….

          • Jim Donivan

            It is not yours or any of the other over 2,500 gods identified by scholars go that concerns us but the “true” believer with a basic education who persists in glomming onto an archaic concept constantly adjusted to respond to scientific discovery so that now, christians claim that it was not just the Earth made in 6 days but the entire universe.
            Christians know almost nothing about the history of religion or where the main claims derive, They assume biblical characters were real people and not allegorical. They do this in spite of archeological evidence, or the lack thereof because they have no idea what actual scholars say and write.
            CHriastrians have no idea that the supposed,,,”inerrant word a god”… tells us that heaven, wherever that might be, is almost 100 degrees hotter than hell.
            When we are going to make-up a story, it might be helpful to earn a little science first.

        • duelles

          I have come to ” believe” in the possibility that god is quantum mechanics, a science if understood or used can alter what is. But as we are constantly being shown our evolving, I go with science and seeking more knowledge, pushing every boundary.
          Still irked that the god particle! the Higgs breaks down into other smaller particles? What’s with that. What are they?

      • Hawkeye72

        They, of course, erased my reply, but I’ll say again, I have no desire to believe. I already believe just as you ardently believe in the atheist religion.

  • Hawkeye72

    The more we discover the more validated the Bible becomes.

    • rothgar

      Ok, I’ll bite. On what do you base your statement?

    • Niranac

      On this basis Marvel Comics are more validated too.

      • Jim Donivan

        Well said!

    • Jk

      Agree’d. All of creation points to one all powerful creator

      • Antonio Calabria

        Mr. McGoo!

      • Hawkeye72

        Exactly. Jesus said that in the last days you will be hated in my name (and called a fool)–Yes,no man knows the hour but we were given signs and this is one more. I seriously doubt the world lasts through 2014.

        • Jim Donivan

          Hoe naïve does one have to be to fantasize they can actually…quote the character jesus?

      • Jim Donivan

        So long as delusion counts for anything.

    • Antonio Calabria

      Get a life! Study science, you halfwit.

      • Hawkeye72

        You’re just another cyber coward showing his idiotic brain at work.

    • Jim Donivan

      Maybe you didn’t read the article.

  • Jim Donivan

    The more we learn, the angrier the fundamentalists religious get.
    Knowledge has it’s enemies and they are “true” believers.

    • 2Etech

      Knowledge has its limits.

      • temblor4

        As compared to the beliefs of the fundamentalist far right religious “faithful”?

        • 2Etech

          No

        • 2Etech

          I wasn’t comparing anybody to anybody else.

      • Jim Donivan

        Every person on the planet, today, has the same modern brain.
        Some of us choose to use ours to learn and some of you choose to misuse yours to…believe!
        Anybody can believe virtually anything, no matter how absurd.
        Learning something takes energy, time, effort and the willingness to know!
        Which do you think is defensible in debate?.

        • 2Etech

          You don’t believe anything??

  • Antonio Calabria

    Hawkeye72:I see several of your posts, including the one in which you tried to reply to mine, were deleted. But let me ask you a serious question: did a voice from Heaven tell you to stop taking your meds? Don’t listen to it! it’s actually the Devil speaking to you…

    • Don’t Even Try It!

      Not a very nice thing for you to say. If you don’t believe, that’s okay. It is up to you to make the decision to believe or not. So, what if you don’t? Big deal. BUT, please don’t ridicule those that DO believe. We have all made our choice, after all, GOD gave all people free choice. We aren’t forcing our beliefs on you or anyone else, please don’t try to force YOUR views of disbelief on us.
      Thank you and have a nice day :-)

      • Antonio Calabria

        I didn’t think I was, as I don’t really care what other folks think. I was responding to something demented that Hawkeye (the one of the “Calabria whatever” below) was saying. Of course, you’re lecturing about nice things and not nice things to say and not to say. But it’s you, the Christian, with a caricature of Obama in the crosshairs…real Christian thing to do, isn’t it?? But maybe Christianity is just like makeup: you can dab a tiny little bit of it on you just to look kind of presentable…

      • Jim Donivan

        None other than H.L. Mencken said:
        “We should respect the other feller’s religion but only to the extent that we respect his opinion that his wife is beautiful and his children smart”.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com James Langner

        i don’t remember asking to be part of the human rACE, BUT SINCE I’M HERE, IT’S A GAS TO SIT BACK IN MY ROCKER AND LISTEN To THE CRITICIZERS CRITIQUE EACH OTHER. (sorry for the caps.) sorry for the intrusion. i have to get back to the “what the fugwedoin here show.”

      • Ann

        May I make a suggestion. Go back, and take Harkeye72 comments and replace where he uses the Atheists” and replace it with “Christian” and replace where he uses “Christian”with the word Atheists or any other religion” Who is ridicule who and why? No where in his comment is the reason why he thinks the authors are wrong or right. The only comment he makes is that everyone is stupid and he is not. He also says he does not care what we think. Is that anyway to have a civil conversation about anything? So go back to his comment and then ask yourself why non Christians and Christians( and yes there are thousands of Christians who think that science has and will continue to tell us much about the natural world and it history) ridicule people like Harkeye72. He is an example why Christianity is being ridiculed.

        So far I have seen no comments about this article from anyone. It seems no one has question about the article. Why they this it is true or not. What are the implication of the finding or the research? Why?

    • Jim Donivan

      Antonio, you mispronounced Devil. The “right reverend” Billy Bob does it correctly:
      The-Deev-ill n you better get this right less you a be-a-goin straight ta hell (wherever that may be)!

      • Antonio Calabria

        You’re right! I gotta take lessons so I can get across to my buddy Chickenhawkeye 72….

        • Hawkeye72

          In would love for you to call me that to my face. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean I can’t kick your a*s.

  • Jim Donivan

    I didn’t know this site exited. I love this stuff and I love the average fundie and we, in the South, have a saying…
    “Bless their little hearts”!

    • IBWT

      Get a life.

      • Jim Donivan

        Does thou wish to burn me at the take of sanctimony?

  • brotherrolf

    The Denisovan may be the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis.

    • Jim Donivan

      So. I’m fallen? I suppose in which direction might be relevant.

    • Hawkeye72

      You’re right.

  • Hawkeye72

    I’m still amazed at how much the Bible and science come closer and closer to each other with each new find.

    • Jim Donivan

      There I treatment for delusion but it will require your cooperation.

      • Hawkeye72

        But there is no treatment for gross stupidity,so you’re out of luck. Go take a bath. That might help some with the B.O.

        • Jim Donivan

          Insults and name calling?
          Christian, are we?

          • Hawkeye72

            Speaking the truth is not “name calling” heathen–And I’ll fight for the Lord anytime. Not all of us are meek. Some of us are like Peter who sliced the Roman’s ear off in the Garden Of Gethsemane. Had it been me,I would have cut his head off.

    • John Sultzbaugh

      I don’t know how this may be received and I won’t lose sleep over it. The Bible – especially Torah – requires considerable talent to COPY in its proper form, much less comprehend. Torah is a blindingly brilliant example of creative application of metaphor and symbolism. If fundamentalists were fluent Hebrew (and at some point also in Classical Greek) and were truly knowledgeable in the meaning of the words they would then translate … but by then they would have already ceased to be fundamentalists. Way back when I was an undergraduate senior, an irate parent protested her local school district’s policy of teaching foreign languages. “After all,” she argued, “English was good enough for Jesus!”

      • Hawkeye72

        What does what the irate woman said have to do with anything? I doubt I lose very much sleep over your inane comment.

        • John Sultzbaugh

          I meant this strictly as a general comment directed against no one in particular, but since you have decided to become offensive, I can only suppose your definition of “inane” is “above the definer’s comprehension.”

          • Hawkeye72

            That’s odd-The reply arrow from your comment is pointed at my user name. Have someone show it to you.

          • John Sultzbaugh

            If it isn’t obvious by now, I am still learning how this works. I see what you mean, and I want to apologize. What I meant, well hidden by my verbiage, is that I personally believe the first part of Genesis is mainly allegorical, and this was pointed out to me by a geologist. He said that the 1st Day (actually event) is when light finally penetrated the heavy fog and dust clouds that surrounded the recently-created Earth, the 2ndDay/Event contained the slow condensation of the fog into what would cover
            the lowest reaches as the world ocean, and the higher grounds, after allowing the profusion of rainfall to enter the ocean, became the dry land. On the 3rd Day, the Sun, Moon and stars finally became visible from Earth. My great-aunt Vera was (in my late wife’s opinion) pretty much a Pennsylvania Dutch fundamentalist, but she was also a well-read lady, and we found a lot of common ground (despite my being a Russian Orthodox PA Dutchman, my mother’s having been born in western Ukraine when it was temporarily ceded to Poland, giving me dual Polish-American citizenship … and an identity I am still trying to comprehend!). My wife, by the way, was Methodist, and she was a healthy source of enlightenment for me.

            My apparently surly comment about the irate parent arose from my frustration that some people are not always willing to recognize that Scriptural interpretations are not always 100% accurate. For example, when Moses asks God (at the Burning Bush) “Who shall I say has sent me?” the KJV interpretation is “I am that I am.” But the Hebrew is “Ehey asher Ehey (of course, phonetic spelling is problematic here) “I will become what I will become.” This make no sense to the Biblical scholars who conceived God as already complete, and they “corrected” the text accordingly. They could not grasp the concept of dynamism in the Divine – I can barely perceive it and I am not so dogmatic. And whoever translated “Yam Shuf” as the Red Sea injected himself into the equation, along with his lack of awareness of something known literally as the “Sea of Reeds.” This is a case where the Bible and history agree far more congenially than the bible and its 17thcentury translators.

            My greatest personal frustration is with the fact that everyone seems to be in lock-step when it comes to interpreting the term LOGOS , “LOGOS” as “Word” when in fact it actually means “Concept” or “Idea.” Again, considering Jesus or any other entity mentioned in Scriptures as a concept just did not sit well with the interpreters. That is a shame, because unbiased interpretation might just show the how science, history and the bible are NOT necessarily at odds.

          • Hawkeye72

            Merry Christmas

          • John Sultzbaugh

            And a Merry Christmas to you and yours!

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