Links between modern humans, Neanderthals probed

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Washington, Sept 20 (ANI): A team of researchers is probing the links between modern humans and Neanderthals.

Homo neanderthalensis nearly made it through two Ice Ages in Europe, and disappeared roughly 30,000 years ago.

Now, Richard "Ed" Green, PhD, who studies Neanderthal DNA at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany joined hands with a lab team headed by Svante Pääbo, a famous Swedish scientist, for study of Neanderthal-human link.

It is believed that Neanderthals and humans first evolved separately from a common ancestor a few hundred thousand years ago.

There are many fewer genetic and physical differences between the two hominids than there are between modern humans and chimpanzees. DNA sequences that have changed in humans - but that are the same in chimps and Neanderthals - might more easily be linked to their physical or behavioral manifestations and provide clues to the most recently evolved human traits.

The first Neanderthal DNA was extracted from bone in 1997. The majority of our DNA resides on 23 pairs of chromosomes inside the nucleus of every living cell. This DNA is inherited from both parents.

But initial studies of Neanderthal DNA instead focused on the small percentage of DNA that resides in compartments within cells called mitochondria. Mitochondrial DNA tracks only maternal inheritance.

The mitochondrial DNA of thousands of living humans already has been examined. The Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA examined to date is distinctly different from that of humans, Green says.

No mitochondrial DNA sequences from Neanderthals have been encountered in modern humans.

"This makes it less likely that there was some genetic interchange with Neandertals," Green says. "No one's mother was a Neandertal."

Green and colleagues have also been mapping nuclear DNA from Neanderthals. In February, Pääbo reported that the team already had mapped at least one DNA sequence to cover more than 60 percent of the entire Neanderthal genome, using DNA from the ancient bones of three different individuals. (ANI)

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