Monday, February 13, 2012


The desire to understand where human beings came from and from whom we evolved is a curiosity shared among many. Until recently, what we knew about our predecessors came solely from archaeological findings and the fossil record. However, new breakthroughs in DNA technology and analysis has allowed us to come even closer to understanding our ancestors, and their relationship to us, on the molecular level.

According to the article “Entire Genome of Extinct Human Decoded from Fossil” on Biology News Net, last week on February 8th, Dr. Svante Paabo and his colleagues - the Leipzig team - made the entire genomic sequence of our closest extinct relatives, Denisovans, available on the internet for use by the scientific community. This sequence, which was originally drafted in 2010, came from just a tiny fragment of bone from a human finger that was uncovered in a cave in southern Siberia. Using DNA extracted from less than 10mg of the finger bone, the sequence was drafted using techniques that produced results sufficient enough to confirm the close relationship of the Denisovans to Neanderthals and us, but was insufficient in further research that required more specifics.

According to Dr. Matthias Meyer, the developer of the new techniques that provide more accurate sequencing, the updated, completed sequence “is of very high quality” with “fewer errors than most genomes from present-day humans that have been determined to date.” This new, higher resolution is due to the ability of the new methods to sequence every position in the genome 30 times, as compared to just twice with the first draft.

What does this mean? That scientists will now be able to use the sequence to research the evolution of specific parts of our genome, with hopes of discovering the genetic changes that allowed humans to spread so rapidly around the globe and develop our modern human culture.

The finger bone was found at an archaeological dig site in a layer believed to be between 50,000 and 30,000 years old. Now, not only can we speculate about the way of life of our ancestors that lived at this time, but we can use these archaeological findings to actually figure what was going on at the genetic level with these ancient humans. With each breakthrough such as this, we come closer to understanding how we evolved, and the information this provides us will hopefully help satiate our curiosity about our ancestors.

Posted by Laura Moro (2)

Reference link:


  1. Humans have come a long way that's for sure. We are the only species that were able to evolve so rapidly. It's a very long genetic history we have. What really separates us from the other higher order primates? Why did we get this way and they didn't? With research like this we might begin to understand why.

    posted by Dorian Pillari

    1. Since I am a biology major, I find evolution very interesting. I’ve had many classes that went into detail about how we came about but never really talked about it on a DNA level more than how similar our pattern is the chimps. To hear that they found a finger in a cave and it shows connections to humans we did not know we were related to. However, overall the blog was a little boring.

      Posted by Jen Silva

    2. Sorry you found my blog boring. Being a biology major, I found the topic of advancements in genetics to be extremely interesting, and the fact that it related to human evolution all the more prevalent to modern day biological interests. Perhaps you'll find this interesting: the first draft of this genome, the lower resolution, allowed scientists to discover that modern day inhabitants in New Guinea have 4.8% Denisovan DNA. If we were able to find this out from the lower resolution, imagine what this groundbreaking high resolution can tell us? (Source:

      Posted by Laura Moro

  2. really interesting article. really surprised how a small fragment of a bone was the key to the results of this research. I would too, like to know about the genetic changes that have made us who and where we are now!

    -Hermann Kam

  3. Its amazing how much about ourselves from paleoanthropology. This reminds of an article which talked about how the ancestors of modern humans occasionally interbred with other hominids, such as the Neanderthals and the Denisovans mentioned in your post. This may have lead to resistances of certain diseases which may have helped humans to spread out to new areas of the globe.

    Posted by Joseph Frimpong

  4. If the genome is such high quality, is there a chance that scientists will be wanting to clone this individual any time soon? This would open up a whole new ethical dilemma and debate, as the individual in question is a member of our genus and is very closely related to humans, however it is not a modern Homo sapiens. Cloning humans is considered unethical, but how do we define ‘human’?

    Posted by Erica Fitzpatrick

  5. It is interesting how such a small fragment of a finger bone could lead to such a big discovery. New technology can help us to better understand specific genetic changes throughout the human process which will decifer where we are now and what changes allowed us to get here. These new findings could help us to better understand when and how specific genetic diseases arose which hopefully could lead to cures. Great article!

  6. This is really an amazing example of how far technology and the knowledge of human genetics has come. I bet that 50 years ago people never thought that we would be able to do this. This is great though that we are able to find more and more about the ancestors to humans. I think that we should have this test done on some of our other ancestors as well.

    Posted by Nicco Ciccolini

  7. Evolution is fascinating. I would love to know what features of ours evolved closest to the modern day and why. How has our environment changed and how has it in turn changed us? Not only might we get a look at ourselves but we could even get a better picture of the Earth that our ancestors lived in. The environment would definitely have shaped our genome in some ways.

    by Mike Selden

  8. Tracking evolution through fossils and other artifacts has always been very interesting to me. However, tracking evolution through something as intimate as our own DNA takes it to a whole other level. It seems as though once this science is perfected, DNA will be one of the most informative pieces of evidence in the argument for evolution. Thanks for bringing this subject to my attention and I very much look forward to seeing where it goes.

    Published By Erica Bonnell