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Entire Neanderthal genome finally mapped – with amazing results

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The results of an extensive analysis of a 50,000-year-old toe bone belonging to a Neanderthal woman, which was unearthed in a cave in 2010, have been long awaited. Now, after much anticipation, the findings have finally been released by the journal Nature, and they have not disappointed. For the first time ever, researchers have completely sequenced the fossil’s nuclear DNA to the same extent and quality as that of genomes sequenced from present-day people.

All around the world, news headlines shout out about incest and inbreeding and other sensationalistic statements. Sadly, they are missing the most amazing results of all.

This incredible research has revealed the following:

  • There is now conclusive evidence that Neanderthals bred with Homo sapiens – a fact disputed for many years.  Some scientists claimed the two species had never even met.
  • Ancient human species, including Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo sapiens mated with each other, resulting in an incredibly complex family tree.
  • The Denisovans share up to 8 percent of their genome with a “super achaic” and totally unknown species that dates back around 1 million years.
  • The results conflict with the theory that modern humans arose completely from one “out of Africa” migration more than 60,000 years ago that spread worldwide without mating with other early humans.
  • About 1.5 to 2.1 percent of the DNA of all people with European ancestry can be traced to Neanderthals.
  • Proportions of Neanderthal DNA are higher among Asians and Native Americans, who also have small percentages of Denisovan DNA.
  • 6 percent of the genome of Australian Aborigines and indigenous Papua New Guineans belong to the Denisovan species.
  • The Han Chinese, native to East Asia, and the Dai people of southern China are related to both Neanderthals and Denisovans.
  • Some indigenous people from Brazil, such as the Karitiana, are not only related to both Neanderthals and Denisovans, but they show relatively high genetic contributions from the Denisovans.
  • Only 87 genes responsible for making proteins in cells are different between modern humans and Neanderthals. Intriguingly, some of the gene differences involve ones involved in both immune responses and the development of brain cells in people.
  • Somewhere within these 87 genes may lay the answer to why Neanderthals and Denisovans became extinct.
  • And least consequential of all, the Neanderthal woman’s parents were related, possibly half-siblings, or an uncle and niece. As evolutionary biologist Mattias Jakobsson stated, the incest finding “is more of an anecdote”. The results from one individual cannot be applied to an entire species, in the same way that the recent discovery of an incest family in Australia does not apply to the whole of the human race.

The study really highlights that no race of people on earth belongs to one ancestral group, rather we all have “proportions of ancestral groups," said computational biologist Rasmus Nielsen of the University of California, Berkeley. What’s more, we can begin to contemplate the fact that we are all “connected to other species - extinct smart bipeds”.

 

 

So many answers have been provided from just one study and yet so many questions remain.

By April Holloway

Comments

Where have you been living ? If you think you are an animal so be it ! :) Be one ! oh , I meant civilized one.

Lets put it this way...
1/ There weren't as many people then. Also, travel took much longer.
2/ We lived in family groups that likely splintered off and moved away if they became too big.
3/ The need to pair off and reproduce.
= pairing/reproducing within the family group being probably more of the norm back then.
Does that change anything? No. The fact that there were 4 different species of Humans living all at once is friggin' amazing. Does that mean we need to take up what our ancestors did? No. We know the consequences. We have plenty of healthy, unrelated people of the opposite sex within an easily accessible area, and the ability to meet them and travel to them with ease. Things change, and ancient Humans rocked! No Alien-o.

Wow, what incredible news.

Why do people find inbreeding in this situation so upsetting ? Is it that difficult to realize that at that time of human development, we most likely lived according to our natural instincts instead of social mores? How many animal species are there that do not breed with their own relatives?
No, it's not acceptable behavior now, but at that point in time who was to tell them that it was taboo? It's a learned behavior, isn't it? It doesn't bother me a bit to know that distant ancestors were inbreeding. I mean, I would prefer that they did not if I could make the choice, but it was just ...part of evolving.

I think that too many people have a hard time accepting that we are just 'animals' who evolved into civilized human beings.

Well said. If the populations can interbreed, why do we use the term "species"? If the genes of the populations are alive and kicking, why do we call those populations "extinct"? What is apparently meant is that a certain inbreeding population (which all relatively isolated populations are) became less bounded, filtering in with a larger population. If we had had genome mapping when the first "Neanderthal" skeleton was found, we probably wouldn't have designated them a separate species. The first Neanderthal remains were found in the 19th century at a time when scientists and many others were arguing, with great political consequences, that our "races" were separate species, i.e., were created separately. The use of the term species in the present context seems a holdover from polygenism.

...Is that Neanderthals were just another kind of person.

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