Neanderthal vs Human skeletons

Neanderthals and Humans are 99.84 percent genetically identical – so where are the differences?

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Research has shown that modern-day humans and their extinct Neanderthal cousins differ by only a fraction of a percent.  So what accounts for the differences that are known to exist between the two? In a ground-breaking new study published online in Science, scientists have discovered the cellular equivalent of on / off switches that determine which genes are activated or not.

Scientists have found that the genomes of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals are 99.84 percent genetically identical, and have fewer than 100 proteins that differ in their amino acid sequence. However, although numerous recent studies have shown that we are a lot more similar to Neanderthals than previously believed, there are still fundamental differences.  For example, Neanderthals had shorter legs and arms, bowlegs, larger hands and fingers, curved arm bones, and more prominent brows. There are also a number of diseases and neurological conditions that have been found in humans but not Neanderthals.  Could all these differences really be contained within a 0.12 percent difference?

Computational biologists Liran Carmel and stem cell biologist Eran Meshorer, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and their team sought to answer this question by examining differences in the epigenomes of humans and Neanderthals, as well as the ancient hominid species known as the Denisovans. The genome is the sequence of 3 billion molecules that constitute all of a person's DNA while the epigenome is which bits of DNA are turned on or off even as the molecular sequence remains unchanged. For example, it is the epigenome that can account for difference traits between identical twins.

Their results revealed around 2,200 regions that were activated in today's humans, but silenced in either or both ancient species, or vice versa. When a gene is silenced, it does not produce the trait it otherwise would. In other words, differences between the species could be accounted for by on / off patterns in the DNA.

One of the major epigenetic differences was related to those that influence the shape and size of limbs. There were also significant differences in the on / off patterns between Neanderthals, Denisovans, and modern humans associated with neurological and psychiatric disorders including autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. More of the Neanderthal and Denisovan versions were silenced, while the human versions were active.

However, the scientists acknowledged that the research technique is not without its limitations. Each individual’s epigenome can vary markedly from another’s due to diet, environment, and other factors. It is therefore impossible to know whether the on/off patterns found in Neanderthal genes are typical of the species overall or peculiar to the individual studied. Furthermore, epigenomes can vary between different tissues of the body, so epigenomes gathered from bone, hair, or teeth, will not necessarily say anything about the brain.

Nevertheless, the new method employed in this study is a first step towards further understanding the differences between modern-day humans and our ancient ancestors. As techniques and methods develop, there is promise that we may one day hold all the answers.

Featured image: Comparison of Neanderthal and Modern Human skeletons. Credit: K. Mowbray, Reconstruction: G. Sawyer and B. Maley, Copyright: Ian Tattersall

By April Holloway

Comments

amazing, I am just thinking about all the possibilities that will open up when we learn to switch those ON/Off buttons.

Just an opinion:

If I found a skeleton of an ancient dwarf can I safely assume that there was an entire population of little people covering most of ancient Europe?
Neanderthal man was a one off, find in Germany. I do not and have not seen hundreds and thousands of similar skeletons in museums anywhere in Europe and I probably never will.

My assertion is that the Neanderthal is just another piece of the propaganda jigsaw to coerce me and you into believing in evolution, a concept and not a science as is the study of Neanderthal.

It's good to have your doubts. But keep putting your core-belief towards other perspectives. What we call Neanderthals today might be what the bible refer to as Nephilim for example. A theory presented to me the other day... We have one bone that never stops to grow, and that's our eyebrow-bone. Neanderthals have prominent eyebrow-bone features, which could indicate an extremely long life-span, say close to and around 900 years perhaps.

aprilholloway's picture

Hi Guillaume, to date there are nearly 500 Neanderthal skeletons that have been found, including men, women, and children. They have been found in Germany, Belgium, Gibraltar, Croatia, Israel, Iraq, and France. Certainly not a one-off finding. 

I will be prepared to take a month and travel to these countries and see for myself the skeletons.
Do you have any details of where they are in these countries, please?

I still say that 500 skeletons is not a whole civilis(z)ation, covering most of Europe, as there must be more that that many dwarfs in the south of England alone.

500 skeletons is simply not enough evidence to propose that there was an entire species.
There has to be more and a different kind of evidence to support the hypothesis.

aprilholloway's picture

Hi Guillaume, 

The reason why more skeletons have not been found is that bones normally decompose over a number of decades or a couple of centuries at most, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as cold temperatures or being covered by a particular sediment that preserves the remains.  Neanderthals ceased to exist around 30,000 years ago, so most of their remains have long since disintegrated, apart from those that have been preserved by special conditions.  

There are a number of museums that contain remains of Neanderthals, such as 'Britain: One Million Years of Human History' in the Natural History Museum, London; the Krapina Neanderthal Museum in Croatia; The American Museum of Natural History in New York; the Neanderthal Museum in Mettmann, Germany, and many more. 

You mentioned that skeletons are not enough to prove their existence, but now we also have DNA evidence, as the entire Neanderthal genome has been mapped, allowing scientists to compare the genes to other species. 

April

Why don't you have some "faith" in evolution as you do in your religion. It's incalculable the number of bones that have been destroyed by man unintentionally. Also it would be wise to take the world's different climatic conditions into consideration as in Africa and Southern Asia there is generally higher acidity levels in soil and that tends to break down the anatomy faster. Also if you look at areas like Iraq for example there are deserts and caves that would be able to preserve these fossils. Particularly in Europe too with the cold conditions aiding to preserve fossils. I'm telling you Neanderthal Man was real and we as man owe them a debt of thanks for the culture and insight to ponder our origins and (unfortunately) to comfort ourselves into thinking there's more than this life. We're just the lucky apes in my opinion.

I know this might have seemed like a rant, forgive me for that it isn't my intention. I really feel strongly about evolution since I first fully grasped it. I'm only 18 as well and I do respect an opinion of those that are older than me and have had more time to reflect on it. All I ask is that you consider my thoughts before rejecting it, thank you!

April

I again refer to my dwarf analogy and say that 500 skeletons do not make up an entire species which covered Europe and now I understand America, especially when the dwarfs lived so long ago that the skeletons have decomposed to the point where there are just a few left. I just cannot make a science out of this and I don’t think anybody else can for that matter.

If I went on a quest to find a species of human like people which are dwarfs and they lived some time ago I would probably find them in an un-decomposed skeletal form of about 500.

I am not sure if I believe in DNA science after all for most of out here, it has to be a belief system as we do not have even an inkling of what the black magic art of DNA is all about and further I suspect the science of genomes.

In my world ‘science’ is just not that. It is based mainly on a hypothesis that has been rushed to the mainstream press and swooped up by the masses as the truth when it is not. I am also very suspect of a group of people who’s income is reliant on scientific research and coming up with conclusions.
Why can we not accept that to some studies there are no conclusive
conclusions as with the Neanderthal.

I do not believe in the science of Evolution however I am also not a religious nut who says that God made me. I am still after many years on this plane of existence still trying to work out if God made me and I don’t have any answers of which I can cuddle as my favourite topic of imposing my will upon others, discussion.

Evolution exists and can be seen on an almost daily basis in labs across the world.

Bacteria growing happily on an agar plate, they are then transferred to one containing an antibiotic, almost all die, some have a mutation in their DNA that means the antibiotic is not effective, they multiply and soon the plate is covered in bacteria, all of which contain the mutant gene conferring resistance to the antibiotic.

Evolution.

Tsurugi's picture

That's adaptation, not evolution.

Evolution suggests adaptation leads to speciation over great periods of time, a process that is purely hypothetical because it has never been observed, for reasons that should be obvious, and because evidence of transitional species of any kind are so few and far between that they may as well not exist at all, because they should be everywhere...if speciation were true.

So despite the claims of evolutionary theory, adaptation does not infer speciation...which means adaptation is not necessarily evidence of evolution.

What you refer to as a "mutation" is simply epigenetics. Pay attention ...

aprilholloway's picture

Hello Guillaume, 

I don't quite follow the dwarf analogy, or see how it relates to the existence of Neanderthals. 

You are welcome to believe or disbelieve what you wish of course, but there really is a lot of evidence for the existence of Neanderthals. Only about 50 fossilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex have been found, but we know they existed as a species from their form, their bones, and other traces.  

If you found 500 skeletons that have the same features as each other but have distinct characteristics from modern humans, what conclusion would you make?  

The fact is that the entire Neanderthal genome has been mapped, and comparisons have been made with humans down to the smallest detail. 

Considering scientists are able to extract DNA from an animal and create a living, breathing, identical cloned copy of it, suggests they have more than an inkling about what it is and how it works.  Whether it is 'black magic' is another issue altogether. I certainly have my reservations about the interference of science in natural processes. But evolution is not something to believe or disbelieve as it is not a religion or based on faith. The evidence speaks for itself. 

April

My line of questioning is just that.

It is not that I believe or disbelieve, I sit on the fence, currently.
I simply question that upon finding 500 or so skeletons and coming up with Neanderthal human subspecies is not science.

I feel that there are many questions regarding the truth. We in our current paradigm cannot view the truth as all of history and conclusions are based upon our paradigm of reality.

I appreciate very much that in your articles you do not avoid the Pagan (non Christian) peoples as many do, who write about our history.

If one can read "Alice in Wonderland" and view the story with the key to the story it makes perfect sense, otherwise it is an enigma.

The Neanderthal hypothesis (sic) has far too many questions attached of which I think that there are no answers, as yet.
It is also not only the science of Neanderthal that I question it is all of science as it is applied to history.

Why can we just not say 'we don't know' is it ego?

it is not ego, Guillaume, but a drive to learn and understand the things around us. this is why whenever i say, "i don't know," i try to find the right answer. Science gives us a process of learning, and that is where we are right now. science could eventually be wrong about the neanderthals or perhaps be right. for some, science is a way to arrive at answers. others may use different methods or even a combination. i am sure you visit this site because you also want answers. what paradigm do you suppose will be helpful?

the "differences" between Neanderthals and homo sapiens (and just typing those classifications pains me as they are erroneous and misguided) mentioned in the article, such as short or bow legs, heavier brow, more robust or muscular physique, are all features that are easily and rather commonly found in what is called "anatomically modern humans," making the already minuscule genetic "difference" smaller still. In fact, the less than 1% genetic difference is readily explained by the process of evolution itself. What has been called Neanderthals are simply early or ancient Eurasians, plain and simple.

It has been proposed by well-respected scientists that mankind evolved from more primitive forms to survive from generation to generation, gaining positive changes to our genetic inheritance and losing the "recessive" traits until we all embody the best properties of "modern man". The implications of these claims seem to deny the action of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that every system left to its own devices always tends to move from order to disorder. All around us, we can observe that metallic objects will tend to rust or corrode when left exposed to the elements. We see that the influence of bacteria tends to spoil food (and US!). We observe that a river erodes its banks in the course of its movement towards the ocean. Why, despite the best efforts of the medical establishment, is the incidence of cancer, diabetes and heart disease still on the rise? If the race is evolving, why aren't our bodies gaining resistance to these ills? Is modern man really an improvement over our ancestors?

Are we supposed to believe that simple existence is enough to improve the nature of man? Can we just let nature take its course and expect improvements in the human race without seeking a more certain path to perfection?

If evolution actually exists, I have not yet been convinced.

The second law of thermodynamics applies to closed systems.  The earth, with its energetic sustenance from the sun, is an open system.

“Why, despite the best efforts of the medical establishment, is the incidence of cancer, diabetes and heart disease still on the rise? If the race is evolving, why aren't our bodies gaining resistance to these ills? Is modern man really an improvement over our ancestors?”

Cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are not damning indications of genetic corruption, but of the encroachment of toxic influences into the modern lifestyle.  Further, the medical establishment, with its focus on symptom management rather than disease prevention, has been exacerbating the situation tremendously rather than honestly addressing it.  While this does speak to the current state of society, it does not imply a problem with human genetics.  We do continue to form a generational resistance to the health conditions against which antibodies are effective.  Also, more and more research is becoming available, for those who care to find it, about how to strengthen the immune system (and the body in general) through proper nutrition.  Trying to solve our epidemics with better drugs and/or genetic tampering is completely insane when undertaken within the same paradigm responsible for producing the mess to begin with.

All of that being said, the human genome has undergone very little change for the past 150,000+ years.

 

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