Friday, May 07, 2010

Everyone has a little Neanderthal in them

Any human whose ancestral group developed outside Africa has a little Neanderthal in them – between 1 and 4 per cent of their genome, Pääbo's team estimates. In other words, humans and Neanderthals had sex and had hybrid offspring. A small amount of that genetic mingling survives in "non-Africans" today: Neanderthals didn't live in Africa, which is why sub-Saharan African populations have no trace of Neanderthal DNA.

SHOOT: Now you know why you've always had the sneaking suspicion that there's a crazy animal lurking inside you...
Welcome to the family (Image: Javier Trueba/MSF/Science Photo Library)
How closely are Neanderthals related to us?

They are so closely related that some researchers group them and us as a single species. "I would see them as a form of humans that are bit more different than humans are today, but not much," says Svante Pääbo, a palaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, whose team sequenced the Neanderthal genome.

The common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals lived in Africa around half a million years ago. After that, the ancestors of Neanderthals moved north and eventually made it to Europe and Asia. Our ancestors, meanwhile, stuck around Africa until about 100,000 years ago before eventually conquering the globe. Neanderthals died out around 28,000 years ago.

It's impossible to know how often humans invited Neanderthals back to their cave (and vice versa), but the genome data offers some intriguing details.

"It must have been at least 45,000 years ago," says David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What! actually something that can make us feel good about being from (South) Africa.! Interesting article.