At least eight genes that rose to prominence in human DNA since the time of the ancient relatives, called Denisovans, affect nerve growth and language, an international team of researchers said today in the journal Science. The cognitive power conferred by these genes may have keyed the development of complex thinking skills, culture and civilization said Svante Paabo, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
“This is perhaps in the long term, to me, the most fascinating part about this; what it will tell us in the future about what makes us special in the world,” he said yesterday on a conference call.
New DNA techniques are reshaping knowledge of human evolution just as quickly as they’re sparking the development of medical tests and treatments. Using a tiny amount of material from an ancient finger bone, scientists were able to analyze the ancient ancestor’s genes as closely as those of anyone who walked into a lab today, said David Reich, a Harvard Medical School genetics professor who contributed to the study.
Almost every cell in an organism holds a complete copy its genome, the chemical code for making proteins and tissues. The Denisovan genome analyzed in the study gives a broad visual picture of the individual it came from, holding genes that predict brown hair, brown eyes and dark skin in humans."