An international team of researchers studying DNA patterns from modern and archaic humans has uncovered new clues about the movement and intermixing of populations more than 40,000 years ago in Asia. Using state-of-the-art genome analysis methods, scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have found that Denisovans—a recently identified group of archaic humans whose DNA was extracted last year from a finger bone excavated in Siberia—contributed DNA, not just to present-day New Guineans, but also to aboriginal Australian and Philippine populations. The study demonstrates that contrary to the findings of the largest previous genetic studies, modern humans settled Asia in more than one migration. According to Dr. David Reich, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, "Denisova DNA is like a medical imaging dye that traces a person's blood vessels. It is so recognizable that you can detect even a little bit of it in one individual. In a similar way, we were able to trace Denisova DNA in the migrations of people. This shows the power of sequencing ancient DNA as a tool for understanding human history." The patterns the researchers found can only be explained by at least two waves of human migration: the first giving rise to the aboriginal populations that currently live in Southeast Asia and Oceania, and later migrations giving rise to relatives of East Asians, who now are the primary population of Southeast Asia. The study also provides new insights about where the ancient Denisovans lived. According to Dr. Mark Stoneking, a professor at the Max Planck Institute who is senior author of the paper, Denisovans must have inhabited an extraordinarily large ecological and geographic range, from Siberia to tropical Southeast Asia.
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