«We have put a face to other humans that coexisted with us»

Tomàs Marquès-Bonet


    Being able to read ancient DNA has meant a huge revolution over the last ten years in research into human evolution. While that has given us the possibility to learn more about other humans who coexisted with us, and with whom we even mixed, access to only their DNA and not the cells has limited our understanding of what they were like and, above all, the physiological differences between them and us.

    Conducting epigenetic analyses of the genome of Denisovans and Neanderthals enables us to ascertain which genes are active and functional. We have thrown light upon the physical appearance of the enigmatic Denisovan population, discovered in Siberia in 2010, who lived with the Neanderthals and with Homo sapiens in the Palaeolithic. Evidence of these humans had consisted solely in a phalanx of a little finger, a few teeth and a mandibula, found in Tibet. These scant remains were insufficient to know what the Denisovans were really like. Our team has contributed to giving them a face. By knowing the activity of their genes we deduced how their body and physical appearance developed, comparing it to clinical genetic data. Now, at last, we know they share most of their characters with the Neanderthals.

    Furthermore, our research was voted by readers of Science as the most significant study of 2019, recognition for which we are very proud.


    • Tomàs Marquès-Bonet
      ICREA Research Professor. Director of the Instituto de Biología Evolutiva (CSIC-UPF), Barcelona