"It's a really amazing-quality genome," says David Reich of Harvard Medical School in Boston. "It's as good as modern human genome sequences, from a lot of ways of measuring it."
The pinky belonged to a girl who lived tens of thousands of years ago. Scientists aren't sure about the exact age. She is a member of an extinct group of humans called Denisovans. The name comes from Denisova cave in Siberia, where the pinky was found.
Two years ago, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig reported that they had been able to get just enough DNA from the fossil to make a rough sequence of her DNA. But Matthias Meyer developed a far more efficient way of recovering ancient DNA, so he went back to the tiny amount of DNA left over from the first effort, and reanalyzed it.
"And from this little leftover, we were able to determine the sequence of the Denisova genome 30-fold over," says Meyer.
What that means is they were able to look at every single location along all of this girl's chromosomes 30 times to be absolutely certain that they had the right DNA letter in the right spot. The new results appear in the online edition of the journal Science.
The high-quality sequence gives scientists valuable new data for studying ancient humans. Researchers have begun, for example, to explore which modern human populations may have inherited genes from Denisovans.