Could remnants of DNA from a now-extinct human subspecies known as the Denisovans help boost the immune functions of modern humans? An international study co-led by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), an affiliate of City of Hope, and published on May 26, 2020, in the scientific journal PLOS Genetics, represents the first characterizations of genes in the DNA of healthy individuals from geographically and genetically distinct populations in Indonesia. The open-access PLOS Genetics article is titled “Genome-Wide DNA Methylation and Gene Expression Patterns Reflect Genetic Ancestry and Environmental Differences Across the Indonesian Archipelago” (https://journals.plos.org/plosgenetics/article?id=10.1371/journal.pgen.1008749). Scientists studied genomic diversity among 116 individuals from three Indonesian populations: the Mentawai on the west coast of Sumatra; the Sumba in central Indonesia; and the Korowai, a group of hunter-gatherers from the western side of the isle of New Guinea. The Korowai are of particular interest, as their DNA holds the world's last remaining significant remnants of genetic code -- as much as 5% -- from a cousin of modern humans called the Denisovans, the study says. Like the better-known Neanderthals of Europe, the Denisovans of Asia also are an extinct human subspecies who lived tens of thousands of years ago. And just as Neanderthals passed on certain immune properties to those of European ancestry, the Denisovans may have passed on protective immune genes to their southeast Asian descendants. "Genome sequencing efforts have mainly focused on populations of European descent," said Heini Natri (photo), PhD, a TGen postdoctoral fellow and one of the lead authors of the study. "Most of the world is deeply understudied.
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