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A Word with Svante Pääbo

Svante Pääbo has had a very interesting few months — last year, he revealed a previously unknown type of hominim called the Denisovans, which he tells New Scientist's Alison George are neither Neandertals nor modern humans, and which were identified from DNA alone. This is the first time that a new form of human has been identified completely from molecular data and not from fossils, Pääbo said, adding that he thinks this will happen more in the future — "that just from a tiny speck of bone we can determine the whole genome and reconstruct much of the history." DNA tells Pääbo that Denisovans are a sister group to Neandertals and that the two populations diverged about 200,000 years ago. Pääbo tells George that it's possible there are other types of extinct humans, and that he's part of a group working on research on thousands of human bones discovered in China and South East Asia, and that he's attempting to sequence the H. floresiensis genome. "I think that for sure [in 20 years' time] we will have studied early modern humans, particularly the ones in Africa and the earliest people coming out of Africa to Europe or Asia, for example, Cro-Magnon in Europe," Pääbo said. "We will know about the variation in the genomes of Neanderthals, in Denisovans, in the early modern humans through time."

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