Ancient hominid bone serves up DNA stunner

Evolutionary questions emerge about links between European, Asian forerunners to humans

1:00pm, December 4, 2013

GENE BANK  Scientists extracted the oldest known hominid DNA from this 400,000-year-old leg bone excavated in a Spanish cave. 

Scientists have recovered the oldest known DNA from a member of the human evolutionary family. This find raises surprising questions about relationships among far-flung populations of ancient hominids.

A nearly complete sample of mitochondrial DNA was extracted from a 400,000-year-old leg bone previously found in a cave in northern Spain. The DNA shows an unexpected hereditary link to the Denisovans, Neandertals’ genetic cousins that lived in East Asia at least 44,000 years ago, say paleogeneticist Matthias Meyer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and his colleagues.

Their report, which quadruples the age of the oldest hominid DNA, appears December 4 in Nature.

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