Neanderthal genome sequence published in journal Science

19:38, May 07, 2010      

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An international research team has sequenced the Neanderthal genome, using pill-sized samples of bone powder from three Neanderthal bones found in a cave in Croatia. The results will appear in the journal Science on Friday.

The researchers, led by Svante Paabo of the Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, compared the Neanderthal genome with the genomes of five present-day humans from different parts of the world.

The results reveal a variety of genes that are unique to humans, including a handful that spread rapidly among our species after humans and Neanderthals split from a common ancestor. These findings thus offer a shortlist of genomic regions and genes that may be key to our human identity.

The scientists also found that modern humans and Neanderthals most likely interbred, to a small extent, probably as modern humans encountered Neanderthals in the Middle East, after leaving Africa.

Approximately one to four percent of the modern human genome seems to be from Neanderthals, the authors estimate. Population models have suggested that when a colonizing population comes across a resident population, even a small amount of interbreeding can be widely reflected in the colonizing populations' genome, if that population then expands significantly. Thus, the relatively low percentage of Neanderthal DNA in the modern human genome may suggest that interbreeding was actually fairly limited.

"Having a first version of the Neanderthal genome fulfills a long-standing dream. For the first time we can now identify genetic features that sets us apart from all other organisms, including our closest evolutionary relatives," said Paabo.

"We have so many questions about the Neanderthals, not the least of which is, how much were they like us? The Neanderthal genome promises to be a fruitful source of information about the evolutionary events that produced modern humans and Neanderthals," said Andrew Sugden, deputy and international managing editor at Science.

Neanderthals are our closest evolutionary relatives. They first appeared around 400,000 years ago, ranged across Europe and western Asia, and became extinct approximately 30,000 years ago.

Source: Xinhua


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