An analysis of the blood types of one Denisovan and three Neanderthals revealed new clues to the evolutionary history, health, and vulnerability of their populations. Silvana Condemi of the Center National de la Research Scientifique (CNRS) and colleagues at the University of Aix-Marseille, France, present these findings in the journal Open Access PLOS ONE on July 28, 2021.
Neanderthals and Denisovans were ancient people who lived across Eurasia, from Western Europe to Siberia, from about 300,000 to 40,000 years ago. Previous research efforts have produced complete genome DNA sequences for 15 of these ancient individuals, greatly enhancing their species amplification. Although they are encoded in DNA, the blood types of these ancient individuals have not received much attention.
In the new study, Condemi and colleagues examined the previously sequenced genomes taken from one Denisovan and three Neanderthal individuals (ranging from 100,000 to 40,000 years ago) to determine their blood types and analyze the implications. While there are 43 different systems for assigning blood types, the researchers focused on seven systems that are commonly used in medical institutions for blood transfusions.
This analysis of the blood types of the four individuals provided new information about their species. For example, the ancient individuals had blood group alleles – different versions of the same gene – in combinations consistent with the idea that Neanderthals and Denisovans originated in Africa.
In addition, a distinct genetic link between the Neanderthal blood types and the blood types of an Aboriginal Australian and an indigenous Papua suggests the pairing between Neanderthals and modern humans before modern humans migrated to Southeast Asia.
Neanderthal individuals also had blood-type alleles associated with increased vulnerability to diseases affecting fetuses and newborns, as well as reduced variability of many alleles compared to modern humans. This pattern is consistent with existing evidence that low genetic diversity and low reproductive success are associated with the eventual death of Neanderthals.
Overall, these findings highlight the relevance of blood types to understanding human evolutionary history.
The authors add: “This work identifies the blood group systems in Neanderthals and Denisovans in order to better understand their evolutionary history and to consolidate hypotheses regarding their spread in Eurasia and interactions with early Homo sapiens.
The results of the system analysis of groups of Neanderthals and Denisovans confirm their African origin, as well as the weakness in their fertility and susceptibility to viral infection leading to a high infant mortality rate. ”
First discovered events of occurrence among ancient human populations
Condemi S, Mazières S, Faux P, Costedoat C, Ruiz-Linares A, Bailly P, et al. (2021) Blood groups of Neanderthals and Denisova deciphered. PLoS ONE 16 (7): e0254175. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0254175
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