Researchers from the Max Planck Institute have sequenced nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, extracted from the leg of an early modern human discovered in Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, China.
The DNA, which is the oldest modern human sample recovered to date, shows that the Tianyuan human shared a common origin with the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans, but had already diverged genetically from the ancestors of present-day Europeans. The researchers also found that the proportion of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in this early modern human is no higher than in people living in this region today.
Modern humans fossils dating between back 40,000 – 50,000 years ago have been discovered across Eurasia, but this analysis is the first to establish a genetic relationship between them and present-day human populations. The study used new techniques to identify ancient genetic material from the leg, despite the presence of of DNA from soil bacteria.
Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute said: “This individual lived during an important evolutionary transition when early modern humans, who shared certain features with earlier forms such as Neanderthals, were replacing Neanderthals and Denisovans, who later became extinct. More analyses of additional early modern humans across Eurasia will further refine our understanding of when and how modern humans spread across Europe and Asia.”