News FocusAnthropology

The Species Problem

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Science  28 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6016, pp. 394
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6016.394

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Last year, two papers were published proposing that our ancestors had sex with at least two kinds of archaic humans at two different times and places. Both Neandertals and mysterious humans from Denisova Cave in Siberia interbred with ancient modern humans—and those liaisons produced surviving children, according to the latest ancient DNA research (see main text). But the researchers avoided the thorny question of species designation and simply referred to Neandertals, Denisovans, and modern humans as "populations." So were the participants in these prehistoric encounters members of separate species? Doesn't a species, by definition, breed only with others of that species?