It was 15 months ago that Science carried a story about the completion of a rough draft of the Neandertal genome. Palaeogeneticist Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig was reported as saying “he can’t wait to finish crunching the sequence through their computers”. It has been quite a long time coming, as it is more than a decade since Paabo first demonstrated it was possible to analyse Neandertal DNA sequences. Earlier reports suggested that Neandertals were sufficiently distinct from humans for them to be classified as a separate species of Homo. The draft genome has more than 3 billion nucleotides collected from three female Neandertals.
“By comparing this composite Neandertal genome with the complete genomes of five living humans from different parts of the world, the researchers found that both Europeans and Asians share 1% to 4% of their nuclear DNA with Neandertals. But Africans do not. This suggests that early modern humans interbred with Neandertals after moderns left Africa, but before they spread into Asia and Europe. The evidence showing interbreeding is “incontrovertible,” says paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not involved in the work. “There’s no other way you can explain this”.”
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