First robot portrait of a denisovano

An avant-garde technique of genetic analysis has allowed to obtain the first robot portrait of the Denisovans, a mysterious lineage with which modern humans had sex and children tens of thousands of years ago and whose physical appearance has been a mystery until now,

Almost everything that is known about this group of humans comes from a ridiculously small bone: the phalanx of the tip of the little finger of a girl who lived more than 50,000 years ago in the cave of Denisova (Russia). Low temperatures had kept it so well that the girl's entire genome could be extracted from that small bone shard, which showed that it belonged to a different lineage, brother of the Neanderthals. Subsequent studies showed that modern humans had sex and children with denisovans, which explains why today's Oceanians have a small percentage of Denisovan DNA. Among the genes transmitted are those that allow to adapt to life with little oxygen at high altitudes. Unfortunately, all the genetic information in the bone could not say a word of what the denisovanos looked like, or if they had not become extinct we would see them different from us,

"This study is a methodological revolution

In a detective work worthy of the best forensic science, a team of scientists from Spain and Israel have re-analyzed the DNA of the Denisovan girl to study not her genetic sequence, but molecular marks that have been fossilized on it and called methylations. These biochemical reactions influence genes, for example by causing them to shut down, which in turn has a direct impact on an individual's physical appearance,

To identify the actual effect of these chemical changes on anatomy, the researchers analyzed the genome of current humans that by hereditary diseases have these same genes deactivated and suffer their effects on a particular organ. Once identified which ones impact the skeleton, scientists tested the validity of their technique to predict the physiognomy of two well-known genome species: Neanderthals and chimpanzees. The ability to hit was 85%,

Scientists have found 56 anatomical traits that differentiate denisovans from Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, our own species. 34 of them are in the skull. Unsurprisingly from their close kinship, the reconstruction, published today in the scientific journal Cell, shows that the denisovans were more like Neanderthals, with which they share the elongated face and wide hips. It also reveals unique features, such as a larger mouth and teeth and a very wide face. Together, the work allows you to look the denisovans in the eye for the first time,

One person holds in his hand the fossil phalanx of the girl found in the cave of Denisova (Russia). Max Planck

Scientists have applied this first robot portrait to a piece of jaw found on China's Tibetan plateau and show that, as suggested by their discoverers earlier this year, it is from a denisovano. Among the authors of the work are the geneticist Tomás Marqués-Bonet, of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (UPF-CSIC), scientists from the Miquel Crusafont Institute of Paleontology and the Center for Genomic Regulation, as well as several experts from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,

"This study is a methodological revolution", says María Martinón-Torres, director of the National Center for the Research of Human Evolution, in Burgos. "The innovation of applying techniques that are not commonly used in paleoanthropology, but in clinical studies with contemporary DNA seems to be bordering science fiction, but we also have to remember that we thought that this was a decade ago with the possibility of extracting DNA from fossils, and now it's not only the order of the day, but we also extract proteins. It is fascinating that these other ways of resurrecting fossils are explored," says paleoanthropologist

"It's a mind-blowing study," says Antonio Rosas, paleoanthropologist at CSIC. "Not so much because of the robot portrait, which shows us a physiognomy that is what we could expect from a lineage closely related to Neanderthals, but by the way to obtain it, rescuing the methylations that were fossilized in a girl's tiny bone who lived more than 50,000 years ago. It looks like a movie," he adds,