High altitude Tibetan plateau yields Denisovan DNA


November 12, 2020

In a paper authored by Zhang et al. and published in the journal Science on October 30, a research team reports the discovery of Denisovan mitochondrial DNA at 328o meters (10,760 feet)  altitude on the Tibetan Plateau. This find is significant in two ways: it marks the first time Denisovan DNA has been found outside of Denisova Cave in Russia and it indicates Denisovan populations could function at high altitudes. The Dennisovan geographic range is therefore greatly expanded.

This finding of the hominin mandible, two teeth of which provided the mitochondrial DNA, was reported by becominghuman.org in 2019 entitled "New high altitude hominin found”.

Dr. Charles Pereault, one of the authors of the most recent paper, in commenting on the two papers (2019 in Nature and 2020 in Science, states [It is important] “…“…to distinguish between the mandible, which was identified somewhat tenuously as Denisovan based on a single amino acid position. The new mtDNA work really provides strong evidence that the Denisovan were present on the Tibetan Plateau."

The abstract of the science paper sums it up nicely:
A late Middle Pleistocene mandible from Baishiya Karst Cave (BKC) on the Tibetan Plateau has been inferred to be from a Denisovan, an Asian hominin related to Neanderthals, on the basis of an amino acid substitution in its collagen. Here we describe the stratigraphy, chronology, and mitochondrial DNA extracted from the sediments in BKC. We recover Denisovan mitochondrial DNA from sediments deposited ~100 thousand and ~60 thousand years ago (ka) and possibly as recently as ~45 ka. The long-term occupation of BKC by Denisovans suggests that they may have adapted to life at high altitudes and may have contributed such adaptations to modern humans on the Tibetan Plateau.

Read the full paper in the journal Science.

This website has reported the initial discovery of Denisovan remains (“Look Ma, No Bones!”) in 2010.