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(Photo screengrab from Sec. William Dar facebook video (Department of Agriculture))

Aetas possess the world’s highest percentage of Denisovan ancestry

A group of indigenous people from Bataan was discovered to have the highest level of ancestry of archaic human species, which is a crucial find in the study of human evolution.

The Aeta Magbukon, mostly found in Bataan, was found to possess 30% to 40% greater Denisovan ancestry than their Australian and Papuan counterparts.

The study, published by the scientific journal Current Biology and released last August 12, forms part of a group of comprehensive analyses of archaic ancestry that featured 118 Philippine ethnic groups based on 2.3 million genotypes.

According to the study, “Together with the recently described Homo luzonensis, we suggest that there were multiple archaic species that inhabited the Philippines prior to the arrival of modern humans and that these archaic groups may have been genetically related. Altogether, our findings unveil a complex intertwined history of modern and archaic humans in the Asia-Pacific region, where distinct Islander Denisovan populations differentially admixed with incoming Australasians across multiple locations and at various points in time.”

Denisovans are extinct species that were first identified in 2010. It was identified through mitochondrial DNA from a juvenile female finger bone from the Denisova cave in Siberia, Russia.

Prior to these findings from the Philippines, scientists’ only fossil evidence of Denisovans were only five small bones from the cave of Siberia’s Altai mountains, and possibly, a jawbone from a Tibetan plateau. 

Researchers write that since modern humans’ exit out of Africa, Denisovans have interbred with archaic hominins.

Denisovans, in particular, were initially thought to have a “simple shared demographic history” with modern humans through a single admixture event with the ancestor of Australasians. Australasians is the collective term for the shared genetic ancestry between Philippine Negritos and Australopapuans. Admixture in genetics occurs when previously isolated genetic lineages mix.

“Island Southeast Asia is still relatively underrepresented. However, this may change in the future given the increased interest in the region. Our study, together with the recent discoveries on Homo luzonensis and Homo floresiensis, brings Island Southeast Asia at the forefront of research in human evolutionary history,” said Maximilian Larena, one of the study’s authors and researcher at Uppsala University. 

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