Neanderthal Genome Published

…Well, 60% of the genome at least. Not much has been said yet in regards to the nitty gritty aspects of Svante and colleagues’ findings. No doubt John Hawks and many others will offer their own perspectives over the next couple of days. If you’re interested in the immediate gist then here’s a link to the press release. Also, here is a quote from the BBC offering a succinct summary:

Since Neanderthals lived side by side with modern humans in Europe for many thousands of years, it has been speculated that we may have inherited some Neanderthal DNA in our genome today, thanks to interbreeding.

But Professor Paabo’s team have found no evidence for this.

They focused on a gene implicated in brain development – microcephalin-1 – which shows significant variation among present day humans.

It has been suggested that a particular variant of the gene, found commonly in Europeans, was contributed by Neanderthals.

But the Croatian Neanderthal fossils harboured an ancestral form of the microcephalin-1 gene, which today is also found among Africans.

Overall, it seems that Neanderthals have contributed, at most, a “very limited” fraction of the variation found in contemporary human populations, said Prof Paabo.

By virtue of us sharing the same FOXP2 variant could suggest interbreeding, unless of course I’m missing something. After all, FOXP2 appears,in some accounts at least, to have undergone a very recent selective sweep — approximately 42,000 years ago, and after the Neanderthal-human ancestral split. Then again, our variant might very well be far older than we originally thought, existing in a common ancestor of both the Neanderthals and humans; however, we can’t currently detect selection older than 250,000 years ago. For now it’s really just a wait and see position.

Oh, and before I go: happy 200th birthday Charles Darwin.

Update: John Hawks discusses the recent hype in his Neanderthal FAQ.

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