The Ayta Magbukon ethnic group in the Philippines has the highest level of Denisovan ancestry in the world: they possess even more Denisovan DNA than the Papuan Highlanders, who were previously known as the current population with the highest Denisovan ancestry.
According to new research developed at the University of Uppsala in Sweden, multiple archaic species of hominids They inhabited the Philippines before the arrival of modern humans, and everything indicates that they may have been genetically related.
Along with the recent discovery of a small-bodied hominin, named Homo luzonensis, the data suggest that the Philippines was an area of strong cultural exchange between different species of ancient hominids, among which Denisovan man seems to have played a crucial role. The new study was recently published in the journal Current Biology.
Strong genetic inheritance
The researchers highlighted that strong ancestry of Denisovan man in the DNA of the Ayta Magbukon people It has been possible to verify despite the recent mixing of the members of this ethnic group with various groups from East Asia, who have little Denisovan descent.
Beyond having reduced their levels of Denisovan ancestry after this integration, according to a Press release data indicate that Denisovan man’s genetic inheritance may be up to 46 percent higher in this Philippine population than in Australians and Papuans. Did the Denisovan man then reach his peak of development in the Philippines?
Denisovan man and his relationship with other hominids
In 2010, a little finger bone fragment discovered in Siberia allowed the world to meet a new type of ancient human: Denisovans. Its name comes from the cave in the Altai massif where the bone was found: from that moment, and despite the scarcity of related fossil records, the Denisova man He has been the protagonist of numerous studies and theories.
It is believed, for example, that Denisovans coexisted with other hominids for millennia, but that in addition a group of them continued to develop after the disappearance of the Neanderthals, which occurred about 40,000 years ago. In this way, Denisovans would have interbred with modern humans somewhere in Asia or Oceania between 30,000 and 15,000 years ago.
Were the Denisovans then the last ancient humans to populate the Earth before the absolute dominance of Homo sapiens? Although it is not yet possible to answer that question, the new study indicates that a strong intertwining of modern and archaic humans occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, where different populations of Denisovan islanders intermingled with other hominins in multiple locations and in various points in time.
Southeast Asia, an area of strong cultural crossroads
The diversity of archaic human populations in the islands of Southeast Asia it seems to have been especially rich: the area of cultural interaction includes the Philippines, Malaysia and other archipelagos that make up the vast maritime region of the Asian subcontinent.
The researchers analyzed about 2.3 million genotypes from 118 ethnic groups in the Philippines. In the future, the possibility of sequencing more genomes will allow obtaining details on the way in which inherited archaic genetic tracts influenced our biology and how they contributed to the adaptation of the current human being as a species.
Philippine Ayta possess the highest level of Denisovan ancestry in the world. Maximilian Larena, James McKenna, Federico Sanchez-Quinto, Carina Schlebusch, Phillip Endicott, Mattias Jakobsson et al. Current Biology (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2021.07.022
Photo: portrait of a young Denisovan based on a skeletal profile reconstructed from DNA methylation maps. Credit: Maayan Harel.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.