Neandertal genomics paper coming?

By Razib Khan | April 27, 2010 1:22 am

Last week I was emphasizing the fact that someone from Max Planck seemed to really be positive about the University of New Mexico research which indicates that there has been “archaic” admixture into the modern human lineage derived from Out-of-Africa. This was curious because Svante Pääbo is at the Max Planck Institute, and he’s reconstructing the Neandertal genome. I wasn’t going to do more than hint at rumors, so I’ll point to Thomas Mailund (after linking to posts on the topic of admixture or not) :

I really look forward to reading the Neandertal paper and see what it has to say about gene flow between us and Neandertals. A few month ago, while I visited his group in Leipzig, Svante Pääbo actually promised to show me the draft, but it never happened. In Ohio in February I talked to one of the authors on the paper and he wouldn’t reveal anything… I guess I just have to wait and can only hope that it won’t be too long.

Remember that I didn’t say anything, Thomas Mailund did. Though he wasn’t explicit either, so whatever conclusions you draw are your own. But perhaps a reminder that when people are talking about things in public that might seem curious or a bit farther than the evidence warrants, it may be an issue of you not knowing what they know.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Anthroplogy, Genetics, Genomics, Science
  • Thomas Mailund

    Just want to stress that I have absolutely no inside information here! I was told that the paper is under review, but as for the content of the paper I am as much in the dark as everyone else…

  • John Hawks


  • Thomas Mailund

    Yes, it certainly has the flavour of Kremlinology to it :)

  • megan

    What’s with this nearly abhorrence refusal to consider any breeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, whether consensual or non? Modern humans screw animals for pleasure. So the idea that individuals from two close human species,that practically look alike compared to apes, chimps or monkeys- can’t in random instances ever have bred, successfully to pass on a few genes is as ignorant on the part of scientists as those who refused to believe the science of the earth revolving around the sun.

    For me, until the possibility completely disproved by discovered genes that would cause sterility or terminal mutation in offspring such no miscegenation was possible, I believe modern humans partially bred with local earlier humans they found. An example could be Java man to any other groups from previous human migrations from Africa. Is culture and outward appearances and communication that in surmountable for the various humanoid groups as to say out of the thousands of years overlapping time and location, they never interbred at all? It’s all interpreted by best guess research hypothesis of ancient humanoid behavior/cultures. It’s like people are desperate to keep their “elves, fairies and trolls” separated from pure holy human (DNA) in their childish Tolkien like view of the ancient homo sapien world. If it was rare to never then of course it’ll get bred out of the recent human population but Paleolithic-Mesolithic samples could still be checked for Neanderthal remnants, imho.

  • Thomas Mailund

    Megan: I don’t think anyone is saying that we didn’t bonk archaic humans. Considering that we’ll screw anything we can get our hands on today, that would be a hard case to sell.

    The real question, then, is did this leave any DNA in our genome that survived until today?

    By now, it looks like if there is archaic Homo DNA in our genome, then it is only a small bit. If it was sizable fractions we would recognize that from the polymorphism data from different parts of the world.

    This doesn’t rule out that some archaic human DNA has survived until today, but the jury is still out on this. It is perhaps looking more and more like there might be, but we have not gotten any conclusive proof (but we might get that when we get the Neandertal genome).

    If we don’t find any conclusive proof, we cannot rule out that there still is some archaic human DNA in our genomes, but we will stick to the simpler model based solely on philosophical grounds (Occam’s razor).

    Now, to explain why there might be no such DNA in our genome, I personally wouldn’t go with a null model based on culture, but based solely on genetics. If successful interbreeding was sufficiently rate, the DNA could have disappeared simply by drift (but we might find traces of it in ancient H. sap. DNA, and yes people will be looking for this), but there is also the chance that hybrids were just selected against. We see this all over Nature, so that is a reasonable hypothesis.

    I haven’t met anyone who dogmatically will rule out that there was some admixture between early Homo, but the evidence so far points to there being only a little if any, and we don’t have conclusive proof of the “if any” just yet.

  • dave chamberlin

    I wonder which “race” of people outside of africa will have the highest percentage of archaic genes and thereupon act the most outraged. It will all be silly drama which I personally will find highly entertaining. My money is on the Tasmanians. I suppose I have to add that I find racism to be mean as well as ignorant so as to not offend the touchy.

  • miko

    given that Neandertals persisted longest in Europe and never lived anywhere near Tasmania (probably already settled by modern humans at the time of H.n. extinction) I’m not sure why’d you guess that. dave chamberlin, as inscrutable as ever. Europeans share more morphology with H.n. than tropical people, though this is no doubt convergence for climate. I can’t wait to check myself for Neandertal DNA after the sequences are published.

  • dave chamberlin

    hi miko

    ah, but i didn’t say neanderthal, I said archaic. My best guess is neanderthals are over represented in actual archaic populations because they so often died in ideal preservation locations, limestone caves. I’ve lobbed out some illogical but hopefully entertaining ideas. I found out I’m part Cherokee and Jewish (the shame of my ancestors) and couldn’t be more proud of it. Being a WASP is flat boring. Maybe people will be proud of their percentage of exotic lineage, I know I am.

  • Thomas Mailund

    For Neandertal DNA, my bet would also be on Europeans (or related “races”), but there were probably plenty of H. erectus around in Asia, so without data to support one hypothesis over another, it is really hard to guess which “races” (ethnicity is the word I’m looking for?) have more archaic DNA…

  • gcochran

    “it looks like if there is archaic Homo DNA in our genome, then it is only a small bit.”

    That’s the wrong way to look at it. If there was enough Neanderthal gene input to measure, the human gene pool picked up thousands of new working alleles. Selection often stalls out (in the medium term) because genetic variety has been exhausted, but an injection of archaic genes would have facilitated adaptive change. Moreover, some of of those archaic alleles must have been useful ( i.e. had a fitness edge), since archaic humans in Eurasia had had a long time to adapt to their non-African ecology. If there was introgression, it is highly likely that some introgressed alleles had a selective advantage and rose to high frequency.

    Lastly, mutual infertility has not been seen in mammalian sister species separated by as little time as moderns and Neanderthals. It’s possible, but that’s not the way to bet.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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