Rough Draft of the Neanderthal Genome is Complete!

By Rachel Cernansky | February 12, 2009 5:15 pm

neanderthal_child.jpgAfter years of seemingly endless research, scientists have completed a first draft of the Neanderthal genome.

Nature reports that a team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany has sequenced 60 percent of the genome of a Neanderthal, the closest relative of modern humans. After analyzing more than a billion fragments of ancient DNA, the researchers constructed the genome mostly with DNA strands from a 38,000-year-old fossilized leg bone found in a cave in Croatia. They also used material from older remains, some up to 70,000 years old.

Neanderthals are thought to have been proficient at crafting basic tools and weapons, and died out shortly after Homo sapiens migrated to Europe, but the precise connection between the species has always been unclear.  The Neanderthal genome sequence will clarify the evolutionary relationship between humans and Neanderthals as well as help identify those genetic changes that enabled modern humans to leave Africa and rapidly spread around the world, starting around 100,000 years ago [PhysOrg].

The rough draft of the genome has already turned up some fascinating tidbits, such as the revelation that Neanderthals shared the gene associated with speech and language in modern humans. Says lead researcher Svante Pääbo: “There’s no reason to think they [couldn’t] articulate as we do, although there are many more genes related to speech” [Wired News].

Comparing the genomes of Neanderthals and humans should answer some long-debated questions, such as whether Neanderthals and modern humans continued to mate with each other after separating along the path of evolution [The Guardian]. Some anthropologists have suggested that as the two groups of early humans lived close to each other in Europe, they must have interbred; while others have taken a quite opposite stance, arguing that modern humans probably killed off the Neanderthals.

While researchers are eager to learn more about Neanderthals’ lives and capacities, researchers say the larger goal is reaching a better understanding of how we humans came into our own. Says Pääbo: “It was always a dream to look at the DNA of our closest evolutionary relatives. Now that we have the Neanderthal genome, we can look for areas in the human genome where a change seems to have swept rapidly through us since we separated from Neanderthals” [BBC].

Related Content:
80beats: Neanderthal DNA Shows They Rarely Interbred With Us Very Different Humans
80beats: Give Neanderthals Some Credit: They Made Nice Tools
DISCOVER: Will We Ever Clone a Caveman?
DISCOVER: Works in Progress asks whether we rubbed out Neanderthals, or rubbed off on them

Image: Wikimedia

  • cacs

    She looks a lot smarter than her male counterpart on the Geico commercials. Maybe she should get an agent.

  • Jumblepudding

    I always thought the geico guys were just really early cro-mags, owing to their slim, surfer-like figures

  • George

    a) USAToday (2/13/2009) – An international team Thursday said it has completed a draft of the genome of Neanderthals, which shows that our extinct cousins made “very little, if any” contribution to human genes… Neanderthals occupied Europe from about 800,000 to 30,000 years ago. Scholars have long argued over their extinction, and their relationship to people… Neanderthals became genetically distinct from that common ancestor only about 300,000 years ago.
    b) According to the ancient writings – the Sumerian ones and the Bible – two types of genesis took place on Earth:
    1) The genesis of the monkey – people, described in the Sumerian writings – Zecharia Sitchin, The Twelfth Planet:
    300.000 years ago, the inhabitants of Nibiru rebelled. Enki and Ninhursag (his sister) have decided to create a primitive man using genetic engineering techniques and combining the (female) ape genes with those of Enki, the resulting egg being thus impregnated into the uterus of Ninki, Enki’s wife.
    2) The genesis of the Anunnaki – people, clones of the inhabitans of the planet Eris/Nibiru, described in the Bible. Is much more recent, taking place approximately 8000 years ago.
    “Then God (Elohim, the divinity = PLURAL), said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’…then the Lord (Yahweh/Anu – A/N) formed the man of dust from the ground (organic and anorganic material of human body- A/N) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature”(Genesis 1: 26 ; 2: 7):

  • James

    Nibiru isnt real. The scenario outlined by Sitchin, with Nibiru returning to the inner solar system regularly every 3,600 years, implies an orbit with a semi-major axis of 235 Astronomical Units, extending from the asteroid belt to twelve times farther beyond the sun than Pluto. This would mean that Nibiru spends 99% of its time beyond pluto. Those conditions are way to cold to sustain life. “Elementary perturbation theory indicates that, under the most favorable circumstances of avoiding close encounters with other planets, no body with such an eccentric orbit would keep the same period for two consecutive passages. Within twelve orbits the object would be either ejected or converted to a short period object. Not to mention that Sitchin’s translations of both individual words and of larger portions of ancient texts are generally found to be incorrect by his colleagues. Sitchin bases his arguments on his personal interpretations of Pre-Nubian and Sumerian texts, and the seal VA 243. Sitchin claims these ancient civilizations knew of a 12th planet, when in fact they only knew five. Hundreds of Sumerian astronomical seals and calendars have been decoded and recorded, and the total count of planets on each seal has been five. Seal VA 243 has 12 dots that Sitchin identifies as planets. When translated, seal VA 243 reads “You’re his Servant” which is now thought to be a message from a nobleman to a servant. According to semitologist Michael S. Heiser, the so-called sun on Seal VA 243 is not the Sumerian symbol for the sun but is a star, and the dots are also stars. The symbol on seal VA 243 has no resemblance to the hundreds of documented Sumerian sun symbols.

  • FILTHpig

    In response to George:

    Hopefully, you are joking about the origins of the human race. If you, by chance, are not joking, then I would consider your post ‘spooky ignorance from a distance’. Just be sure to stay at a safe distance.


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