Lady X

Well, actually it’s X-Woman but Lady X made a better title. The science of genetics is exciting and has turned up so much important information recently that it’s made the Theory of Evolution ironclad.  This discovery of a new species of old humans is just about the most interesting read I’ve seen in a long time.  I took a lot of anthropology courses at university and was terrifically fascinated by Neanderthals.  This appears to be a species with some ties to them.  Yes, I still read The National Geographic and have read it since my grandparents bought me a subscription in the early 60s.  I was a ardent fan of Louis and Mary Leaky.

A previously unknown kind of human—the Denisovans—likely roamed Asia for thousands of years, probably interbreeding occasionally with humans like you and me, according to a new genetic study.

In fact, living Pacific islanders in Papua New Guinea may be distant descendants of these prehistoric pairings, according to new analysis of DNA from a girl’s 40,000-year-old pinkie bone, found in Siberian Russia‘s Denisova cave.

This “new twist” in human evolution adds substantial new evidence that different types of humans—so-called modern humans and Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans, and perhaps even Denisovans and Neanderthals—mated and bore offspring, experts say.

The article also links to an even more interesting topic area: “Interspecies Sex: Evolution’s Hidden Secret?”.

"Wilma", the Neanderthal star of a great documentary this year

There appears to be some evidence that Denisovans, Neanderthals, and Homo Sapiens did some species mixing.  This is also a new item because it was previously thought that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens kept to themselves.  Well, I guess that was true for awhile  if you were a scientist and not a reader of  The Clan of the Cavebear series.

The centerpiece of the DNA study is a Denisovan fossil finger bone discovered in 2008. The fossil is thought to be from a young girl—dubbed X-woman—who was between 5 and 7 years old when she died.

For a previous Nature study, released in March 2010, the team had collected and sequenced mitochondrial DNA, or mtDNA, from X-woman’s finger. But mtDNA—inherited only from mothers—contains far less information about a person’s genetic makeup than DNA found in the nucleus of a cell, or nuclear DNA (see a quick genetics overview).

In the new study the team reports successfully extracting and sequencing nuclear DNA from the bone.

Then, using DNA-comparison techniques, the scientists were able to determine that Denisovans were distinct from both modern humans and Neanderthals, yet closely related to the latter.

The team estimates Denisovans split from the parent group of Neanderthals about 350,000 years ago.

One of the interesting things will be seeing if scientists can piece together the Denisovan move from places around eastern Europe to  New Guinea.

“We don’t think the Denisovans went to Papua New Guinea,” located at the northwestern edge of the Pacific region called Melanesia, explained study co-author Bence Viola, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

“We think the Denisovan population inhabited most of eastern Eurasia in the same way that Neanderthals inhabited most of western Eurasia,” Viola said. “Our idea is that the ancestors of Melanesians met the Denisovans in Southeast Asia and interbred, and the ancestors of Melanesians then moved on to Papua New Guinea.”

The study of Melanesia is another thing that has expanded recently.  The DNA findings of X-Woman was reported by WaPo in March of this year.

A team of European researchers has identified a new lineage of proto-human that left Africa about a million years ago, traveling as far as Siberia and then dying out — a discovery that raises new questions about early human history.

The existence of the new lineage was discovered by analyzing DNA extracted from a single bone fragment, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. What the beings looked like, how they lived and what happened to them are a mystery. All that’s known is that they existed as recently as 40,000 years ago, which is the approximate age of the bone.

“Whoever carried this DNA out of Africa is some new creature that hasn’t been on our radar screen so far,” said Johannes Krause, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who helped lead the research team.

It seems that are now closer to calling  little Lady X a member of a new species.  This means we seem to have a new set of cousins to add to our family tree!  This is really exciting!!

18 Comments on “Lady X”

  1. Delphyne says:

    I loved reading about this a couple of days ago, Kat! So very interesting – it makes my mind kind of explode with infinite possibilities of “what could have happened.”

    • dakinikat says:

      Yup! It also makes me wonder what else is in store for us!! I think findings like this kind’ve knock us off our high horse! We’re not the center of the world! We probably will eventually find that we are not the center of the universe or the multiverse either!! It opens up a world of things!

  2. Minkoff Minx says:

    Yeah this is exciting. I love this stuff. Thanks for posting about it, cause I missed it!

    • dakinikat says:

      It just showed up on the 22nd so it’s not too old. Was thinking I’d post something light today given your incredible post coming up!!!

      • Minkoff Minx says:

        Yeah, light is a good. I hope that post of mine does well. I guess we will see soon.

        • dakinikat says:

          well, you’ll be able to tell if it starts getting referenced uppage elseblog … we can go on an pimping spree if you like and drop threads around the place!!! That way it at least shows up down page! I’m going to tweet it and facebook it. That usually starts the process !!!

  3. zaladonis says:

    Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals hooking up doesn’t surprise me – in my 20’s there were a few nights I could’ve hooked up with any species.

    But I wonder – will that be discoverable in our DNA? Will some of us be part Neanderthal? And if so – will some Neanderthal DNA be cool or not?

    • dakinikat says:

      They’re looking into those questions. I wonder that too. Will the next check for ‘good breeding’ be residual Neanderthal DNA?

      (and I’m still laughing, btw)

      • Delphyne says:

        I think that there are 2 scientists who are completely at war with each other – one believes that Neaderthals are part of us and the other completely disagrees, stating that CroMagnon took over.

        And now there is Denisova – I just love it!

    • NW Luna says:

      I say cool:

      So now we know: Many, if not most, people alive today have some Neanderthal ancestry.

      This finding, which comes from analysis of the Neanderthal genome, has taken many experts by surprise.
      John Hawks, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the discovery of Neanderthal genes in us has several implications.

      “One implication is that Neanderthals are not a different species from us. Species are things that interbreed and have fertile offspring. That’s us and Neanderthals,” he told BBC News.

  4. dakinikat says:

    Here’s a piece from The Daily Mail on Wilma. I love how they ‘created’ her. There’s a great set of pictures recreating Wilma as a hunter with and without the bear skins. They’ve got evidence now that Neanderthal females were also hunters.

    The story of how they recreated Wilma is very interesting too.

    • zaladonis says:

      Two things come to mind looking at that.

      First, are humans the only animal or mammal that wears the skins of other animals? When I was growing up my Grandmother had a closet full of furs, jackets, coats, muffs, hats, long stoles she was known to trail behind her, which of course today would be revolting, but I look at that picture of Wilma and realize humans have been wearing fur forever. I just wonder does any other animal do that?

      The second thing I wondered is if both male and female Neanderthals hunted, that might have been one reason for their demise. I’ve noticed that generally speaking women can be great multi-taskers and men not so much. I think that goes as far back as prehistoric times when men had to focus laser-like on one pursuit as he hunted, while women had to care for babies/children and organize and cook and build and keep an eye and ear sharp for intruders. If both genders hunted and developed those skills, did anyone among Neanderthals develop the multi-task skill to keep the camp and the youngins?

      • dakinikat says:

        The anthropologists that study tools think that the neanderthals had a multipurpose tool they stuck with while cm started specializing tools. Specialization and the need to communicate with others to undertake trades to get the new tools and knowledge put cm on a higher path. Any one who conserved old stuff and didn’t adopt new died out. It’s still a hypothesis.

  5. NW Luna says:

    Basically similar reporting from the BBC; link also has a nifty family tree graphic.

    According to the researchers, this provides confirmation there were at least four distinct types of human in existence when anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens) first left their African homeland.

    Along with modern humans, scientists knew about the Neanderthals and a dwarf human species found on the Indonesian island of Flores nicknamed The Hobbit. To this list, experts must now add the Denisovans.

    “A species of early human living in Europe evolved,” according to Professor Paabo. “There was a western form that was the Neanderthal and an eastern form, the Denisovans.”

    The study shows that Denisovans interbred with the ancestors of the present day people of the Melanesian region north and north-east of Australia. Melanesian DNA comprises between 4% and 6% Denisovan DNA.

    I just love this sort of stuff, especially when it upsets previous knowledge and shows we’re all very closely connected.

  6. I love this stuff. Thanks Kat! Great nerd post/gift for X-mas 🙂

  7. Boo Radly says:

    This is thrilling news – finding Lucy was amazing to me many years ago. Now we have Wilma. A few years ago they found what they thought may be a missing link – it was the size and built like a lemur – I believe they named it Emily – just got a new computer and my info did not get transferred. Remember when they found a complete woolly mammoth encased in ice? It had to be thawed slowly – they say it had a particular odor – it was not decomposition but the real natural odor. I would have loved to have been there to touch and smell. It is so good to read we have others here who feel the same excitement. We shall have more answers – more mysteries unlocked or more mysteries.

    Sima is living my ultimate life – a farm with animals and food and an archaeologist. A celebration of this good earth and what it provides and provided in the past.

  8. Sima says:

    I had to study physical anthropology as one of the 4 arms of Anthropology while in grad School. I really liked it. One summer I was very honored to do some work with a Jane Goodall project, observing chimps in zoos to see how captivity changes their behavior. We even got to go to dinner with Jane, heh, I seem star struck I know, but I was. It was SO cool!

    I am amazed at what they’ve been discovering lately. It’s so exciting. I told my partner a few months ago that I needed to get some new Phys. Anth. textbooks to catch up on all the new discoveries!

    • Boo Radly says:

      Sima – Jane Goodall has been a hero of mine for decades. I’ve read all her books – the penultimate – Reason For Hope – was very timely. I realized how vast and complete her views are. She was mentored by Leaky. Sigh, she really does work for this earth and it’s creatures.