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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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