Neandertals and Denisovans, an Asian group distantly related to Neandertals, are the closest evolutionary relatives of present-day humans. They are thus of direct relevance for understanding the origin of modern humans and how modern humans differ from their closest relatives. We will generate genome-wide data from a large number of Neandertal and Denisovan individuals from across their geographical and temporal range as well as from other extinct hominin groups which we may discover. This will be possible by automating highly sensitive approaches to ancient DNA extraction and DNA libraries construction that we have developed so that they can be applied to many specimens from many sites in order to identify those that contain retrievable DNA. Whenever possible we will sequence whole genomes and in other cases use DNA capture methods to generate high-quality data from representative parts of the genome. This will allow us to study the population history of Neandertals and Denisovans, elucidate how many times and where these extinct hominins contributed genes to present-day people, and the extent to which modern humans and archaic groups contributed genetically to Neandertals and Denisovans. By retrieving DNA from specimens that go back to the Middle Pleistocene we will furthermore shed light on the early history and origins of Neandertals and Denisovans.
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