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

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.

 

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.

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?

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