Our Neanderthal Ancestors

The sci­ence mag­a­zine Nature has pub­lished an arti­cle that claims to prove that Euro­peans and Asians have traces of Nean­derthal DNA: “Euro­pean and Asian genomes have traces of Nean­derthal.”

Svante Pääbo leads a team of sci­en­tists at the Max Planck Insti­tute for Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­o­gy in Leipzig. They have been sequenc­ing the DNA of Nean­derthal bones found in Vin­di­ja Cave in Croa­t­ia. When they com­plet­ed their ini­tial work on the Nean­derthal DNA a year ago, the sci­en­tists want­ed to com­pare the Nean­derthal DNA to sequenced DNA of mod­ern indi­vid­u­als. Their sam­ple mod­ern DNA came from peo­ple in France, Africa, Chi­na, and Papua New Guinea.

What they found was that 1–4% of the DNA of Euro­peans and Asians comes from Nean­derthals. This was not true of Africans. Their esti­mate is that migrat­ing humans in Europe and Asia Minor inter­bred with Nean­derthals 45,000 to 80,000 years ago.

Talk about deep genealogy!

There will be a lot of fur­ther research into the impli­ca­tions of this par­tial ances­try of humans from near cousins in the dis­tant past. Are there any traits or vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties or sur­vival strengths some of us come to because of this ances­try? There will be much to pon­der as the research results are completed.

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