Israeli Facial Reconstruction Of Ancient Human Up For ‘Breakthrough Of The Year’ Science Award
The facial reconstruction of an ancient Denisovan girl using genetic data analysis and a new protein method unveiled by Israeli scientists has been listed as one of four finalists in Science journal’s 2019 Breakthrough of the Year Award.
Some 23,000 voters cast their vote in a people’s choice-style contest and chose four finalists including the Israeli development, two Ebola drugs tested in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, combined observations from dozens of radio telescope dishes around the world that generated the first image of a black hole, an effective cystic fibrosis drug approved in the United States.
Earlier this year, a team that included Hebrew University Professor Liran Carmel and Dr. David Gokhman, a post-doc researcher at Stanford University, was able to reconstruct the facial anatomy of a member of the Denisovan group, a mysterious, extinct group of archaic humans, using DNA from tiny bone fragments and teeth.
It was a breakthrough that generated international headlines.
Denisovans “have been known only by scraps of fossils from a Russian cave in Siberia, yet their genetic traces are found in modern humans, especially in Melanesia and Australia,” the Science article announcing the finalists reads. “This year, scientists used a new protein method to identify a jaw bone from the Tibetan Plateau as Denisovan – the first physical trace outside Siberia – and another group used genetic data to reconstruct the face of a Denisovan girl.”
Voting is set to close at midnight Eastern time on Monday, December 9. The magazine will publish its choice for “breakthrough of the year” on Thursday, December 19 as well as the “people’s choice” winner.
The Israeli scientists completed the reconstruction based on patterns of chemical changes in the ancient DNA of this mysterious, extinct group. The reconstructions painted the first known anatomical profile of Denisovans who had remained elusive due to very few discovered physical remains, NoCamels reported in September.
Denisovans went extinct some 50,000 years ago for reasons not yet known. A number of studies from this decade say that “Denisovan ancestry of up to six percent was detected in present-day Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians and to a lesser level in East Asians, Native Americans, and Polynesians,” according to the research.
The Israeli team said it tested performance by reconstructing Neanderthal and chimpanzee skeletal morphologies and found that approximately 85 percent of their trait reconstructions were accurate in predicting which traits diverged and in which direction they diverged. They applied this method to the Denisovan and were able to produce the first reconstructed anatomical profile of the group.