The Neanderthal in Us—Neanderthal Genome Sequenced


My ancestor?

A team of genetic researchers led by Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany is publishing today in the journal Science the results of their effort to sequence the genome of the extinct Neanderthal lineage. It turns out that many of us whose ancestors hail from Europe or Asia carry genes from Neanderthals. As the press release describing the study explains:

A unique scientific task lasting four years has been completed: a team of researchers led by Svante Pääbo, Director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, is publishing an initial version of the Neandertal genome sequence in the current
issue of the journal Science.

This is an unprecedented scientific achievement: only ten years after the decoding of the present-day Homo sapiens genome, researchers have managed to do something similar for an extinct hominid that was the closest relative of modern humans. "The comparison of these two genetic sequences enables us to find out where our genome differs from that of our closest relative," says Svante Pääbo.

The Neandertal sequence presented is based on the analysis of over one billion DNA fragments taken from several Neandertal bones found in Croatia, Russia and Spain, as well as from the original Neandertal found in Germany. From the DNA fragments present in the bones the Leipzig researchers developed ways to distinguish true Neandertal DNA from the DNA of microbes that have lived in the bones over the last 40,000 years. Enough DNA fragments were retrieved to account for over 60 percent of the entire Neandertal genome.

An initial comparison of the two sequences has brought some exciting discoveries to light. Contrary to the assumption of many researchers, it would appear that some Neandertals and early modern humans interbred.

According to the researchers' calculations, between one and four percent of the DNA of many humans living today originate from the Neandertal. "Those of us who live outside Africa carry a little Neandertal DNA in us," says Svante Pääbo. Previous tests carried out on the DNA of Neandertal mitochondria, which represents just a tiny part of the whole genome, had not found any evidence of such interbreeding or "admixture".

For the purpose of the analysis the researchers also sequenced five present day human genomes of European, Asian and African origin and compared them with the Neandertal. To their surprise they found that the Neandertal is slightly more closely related to modern humans from outside Africa than to Africans, suggesting some contribution of Neandertal DNA to the genomes of present-day non-Africans. Interestingly, Neandertals show the same relationship with all humans outside Africa, whether they are from Europe, East Asia or Melanesia. This is puzzling, as no Neandertal remains have been so far found in East Asia. They lived in Europe and Western Asia.

The researchers offer a plausible explanation for this finding. Svante Pääbo: "Neandertals probably mixed with early modern humans before Homo sapiens split into different groups in Europe and Asia." This could have occurred in the Middle East between 100,000 and 50,000 years ago before the human population spread across East Asia. It is known from archaeological findings in the Middle East that Neandertals and modern humans overlapped in time in this region.

Apart from the question as to whether Neandertals and Homo sapiens mixed, the researchers are highly interested in discovering genes that distinguish modern humans from their closest relative and may have given the modern humans certain advantages over the course of evolution.

By comparing Neandertal and modern human genomes, the scientists identified several genes that may have played an important role in modern human evolution. For example, they found genes related to cognitive functions, metabolism and the development of cranial features, the collar bone and the rib cage. However, more detailed analysis needs to be carried out to enable conclusions to be drawn on the actual influence of these genes.

I will mention that my 23andMe genotype scan indicates my maternal haplogroup is U5a2a which arose some 40,000 years ago and were among the first homo sapiens colonizers of ice age Europe.

If you're interested, go here for my column on what rights Neanderthals might claim should we ever succeed in using cloning technologies to bring them back.

NEXT: Lieberman's Terrorist Expatriation Act

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  1. Finally, the mystery of Steve Smith will be revealed!

    1. Heh heh heh heh, that didn’t take long.

  2. Caption Contest!

    “As Piltdown Man heats up his temperature probe, he hopes that he can delete the incriminating evidence before the invention of email.”

    1. “In this classic picture, Warty prepares for his now-legendary urethra-stuffing film shoot with Robert Mapplethorpe.”

      1. “Look Jim, note the distinct slightly flexed and and extended first phalanx and the nonthreatening style of oration, the “non-point”. Jim, I think we are observing the ancestor of the first modern politician. KILL HIM!”

        1. “An early ancestor of homo sapien, the nancius pelosius readies her first health care bill.”

          1. So easy, even a cave man . . . . .

      2. +10 ROFLMAO. Spit-take inducing.

    2. “Just wait’ll those sucker at the Royal Academy find THIS.”

    3. Gronk, seen here campaigning on his signature issue – Closing the “pointed stick gap” with Homo sapiens.

    4. further research reveals Republicans have the greatest incidence and greathest amount of Neanderthal DNA.
      Very little neanderthal DNA has been found in liberals, and none what so ever in progressives.

      1. Yep. Liberals are pure Homo Erectus, while progressives are mostly Afarensis

      2. Yeah, those racist progressives refuse to interdate. Just look at their theory of linear progressive evolution.

  3. It turns out that many of us whose ancestors hail from Europe or Asia carry genes from Neanderthals

    Not only is this not a bug, it is quite possibly a feature, and I’m about to incinerate a frozen, “self-rising” Freschetta pizza to prove it, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  4. NeanderWagner conducts PUH PUH BUH NUH, his seventeen-hour opera about a mythical quest for pube-darkening dyes.

  5. Yabba Dabba Doo!

  6. “”””Those of us who live outside Africa carry a little Neandertal DNA in us,” says Svante P??bo””

    That’s racist!

  7. The Neanderthals didn’t become extinct. They just kept moving north and west until the got to Canada, er, someplace.

  8. I hear STEVE SMITH coming….

    1. You never hear Steve Smith coming…until it’s too late.

      1. Two ways to read this…

        1. Sexually awesome either way (in a Ben Roethlisberger sort of way).

  9. Does this mean they’ll be able to clone Rush Limbaugh, now?

    Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

    1. If they build an oversized tank to grow him in, nyuk nyuk nyuk.

      1. Axlotl tank?

        1. No. There are things even a God Emperor will not consider.

          I am too fond of my Duncans.

          1. Ever wonder why the excerpts from Princess Irulan’s book “In My Father’s House” always start with the words, “My father, the Padishah Emperor…”?

            Wouldn’t it be obvious to anyone reading the actual book that her father was the Emperor? Yet she says these words multiple times in the same book…

            1. Well, the legitimacy of Paul’s rule depended on his marriage to Irulan, so he probably told her, “Write all the history you want, but be sure to remind everyone who your dad is. And stop walking by my room naked!”

              1. Or Herbert just screwed up…

                *gasp* Blasphemy!

                1. Screwed up what? I mean, even if he did eff up the chapter blurbs, it’s hardly that big of a deal.

                  I just read something about him getting the idea for those from Asimov.

  10. Interestingly, Neandertals show the same relationship with all humans outside Africa, whether they are from Europe, East Asia or Melanesia. This is puzzling, as no Neandertal remains have been so far found in East Asia. They lived in Europe and Western Asia.

    Interesting …. very interesting indeed. But unfortunately, perhaps dangerous.

    1. Perhaps dangerous. Though it does seem to show that Africans are more “purely” human (supposing that that means anything at all, which I do not) which would throw a wrench into some of the nasty racist theories about mud races and such. Turns out Europeans are the ones with genes from “lower primates”.

      1. The “lower primates” in question also had larger brains than modern humans. So actually it could validate some of those nasty racist theories.

        1. That’s what I was thinking. It also validates the concept of “race”, if you discover that the human family tree has at least two identifiable branches that diverged 40,000 years ago.

          1. It seems unlikely over that much time that any modern humans would not have Neanderthal genes, regardless of where his/her ancestors came from.

            The whole business is dubious, as the media was reporting not very long ago that experts believed that there was no interbreeding between the sub-species.

            1. Not entirely true – they stated no evidence had been found.

              Previous tests carried out on the DNA of Neandertal mitochondria, which represents just a tiny part of the whole genome, had not found any evidence of such interbreeding or “admixture”.

              Mitochondrial DNA is inherited through the maternal line, therefore it only demonstrated that there were no surviving examples of couplings of male homo sapiens with female Neanderthals. That method wouldn’t have detected descendants of couplings of male Neanderthals and female homo sapiens.

              1. There’s something unlikely in that comment.

                1. Why do you say that? Neanderthals were considerably larger and stronger than we are.

                  Try jumping an unwilling 300 lbs. female gorilla, and you’ll find out real fast why pairings of female Neanderthals and male homo sapiens didn’t produce any offspring!

                  1. So Clan of the Cave Bear has some anthropological validity?

                  2. Duh. Didn’t you see that film in anthropology 101 in college? The one where Diane Fossey and Woody Harrelson team up? I think it was called Neanderthals Can’t Jump?

          2. Nah. When you look at one set of genes, you can divide human into clearly identifiable races. When you look at another set of genes, you get a different division of races. If you look at all the genes, it is a hopeless jumble.

      2. Neanderthals are not “lower primates”, what this means is that they were a subspecies of Homo sapien, probably particularly cold adapted, that died out or was reabsorbed into main line and ended as a distinct group.

    2. Neandertals have always been at war with East Asia.

      1. Neandertals have always been at war with East Asia.

        Ha ha ha, beautiful use of free association.

  11. Anyone watching the Dow?

    1. Well I am now.

      1. I just noticed.

        1. I think the news on Neanderthals had more to do with the drop then Greece did.

          1. I’m in on that theory.

  12. Anyone watching the Dow?

    Holy shit.

    Look out beloooooow!

  13. Crap, Epi beat me to the obvious Warty reference.

    1. He’s a good and devoted spouse.

      1. Who, me or Warty?

        1. Epi, I don’t want to make you jealous, me and Warty are “just friends.”

  14. It turns out that many of us whose ancestors hail from Europe or Asia carry genes from Neanderthals.

    That is fucking amazing.

    Huge chunks of the human population just got sorted into more human and less human. Africans more, Europeans and Asians less.

    (Of course we’re all “human” yada yada yada. Even robots need love, etc…)

    1. As someone who works in the robotics industry, I can tell you that robots do NOT need love.

      1. Well, not yet. Eventually.

      2. The question is, do humans need robot love?

        1. As it turns out, yes.

          1. (removes batteries)

            These are not in compliance with EPA regs.

        2. see “Maid-Droid”
          yes, we need Japanese android love.

        3. I believe that question was answered in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

  15. I’m very northern European in ancestry. So that makes me at least partially Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. Excellent. Do I get compensated for what Homo sapiens sapiens did to my people?

    1. Not until Neandertal pays reparations for what Steve Smith has done to us.

      1. He’s no Neanderthal, man, he’s clearly Homo antecessor.

        1. I would have sworn he was Zinjanthropus.

          1. That position has been refuted by the evidence. Sadly for our species, he isn’t as far back as we’d like to believe.

  16. Man, Robbie Steinhardt from Kansas is holding up pretty well…

    1. THAT, is today’s obscure prog rock reference winner.


  17. Well, Gaius Baltar did say we could probably breed with them…

    1. Just for the record, there’s no evidence that Homo sapiens (pre-interbreeding) was superior genetically or even intellectually to Neanderthal. Neanderthal had bigger brains and penises on average, for instance. Maybe it’s the hybrid vigor that helped mankind take off?

      Say, this is great. I’m going to amend my census filing.

      1. Hey, once you go Neandertal, you never go…crap, nothing rhymes.

      2. Uh, there are no bones in the penis. How do you know the size of a Neanderthal’s penis?

        1. Sorry, this is a family blog.

  18. Another good time to buy, apes, if you have a comfy time horizon.

  19. Bring them back. I thought they were already back. Look at Congress.

  20. You look like you have a little Neanderthal in you. No? Would you like some?

  21. Jean Auel & the Clan of the Cave Bear vindicated at last!

  22. ‘Previous tests carried out on the DNA of Neandertal mitochondria, which represents just a tiny part of the whole genome, had not found any evidence of such interbreeding or “admixture”.’

    Why would you use mitochondrial DNA when that’s only inherited from the mother? All that proved was that all modern humans were descended from a Homo sapiens sapiens in the maternal line.

    1. Mitochondira DNA is easier to analyze. It does not mix from one generation to the next, so any differences in mitochondira DNA is solely from mutation. Scientists know the mutation rate. They can divide the number of differenced between two samples of mitochondria DNA by the mutation rate to find out how long ago the common maternal ancestor lived. You can also do this with the Y chromosome for paternal anscestors, but most scientists use mitochondria DNA. I think mitochondria DNA is easier to isolate than the Y chormosome is.

  23. yes ,oh it Exciting to me !

  24. I think I’m going to change my name to M??tt, cause that would be cool.

  25. Neanderthals are the children of the fallen ones/angels. Yet people of African descendant die to mix with off springs of these beasts. What fools people of color are!

  26. Afrikans dying to breed with you !Don’t belive that!Not after this information about you being animals(neanderthals)having sex with anyone not afrikan for an afrikan is beastiality!!

  27. Don’t belive that!Not after this information about you being animals

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  29. Why are you like that ?

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