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Researchers Decode Genome of a Neanderthal

Mar 20, 2013 05:21 AM EDT

(Photo : Nikola Solic / Reuters)

A research team from Germany has now decoded the entire genome of a single Neanderthal individual.

Neanderthals diverged from the primate line that gave rise to modern humans about 400,000 years ago. This group then moved to Eurasia and completely disappeared from the world about 30,000 years back. Other studies have shown that Neanderthals might have lived near the Arctic Circle around 31,000 to 34,000 years ago.

Back in 2010, a research team led by Dr. Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, had sequenced the genome of Neanderthals using bones of three female Neanderthals from Europe who lived about 40,000 years ago.

The genome in the present study was produced from 0.038 grams of a toe bone found in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia. The research team, which includes Pääbo, says that this genome is far more accurate than the previous "draft" version of the Neanderthal genome. The present genome is produced from a toe bone of a single Neanderthal individual.

Researchers said that the genome of the Neanderthal shows that the individual was related to other Neanderthals in Europe and Russia. Both Neanderthals and their close relatives (the Denisovans) lived in the same cave in the Altai Mountains. Previous research has shown that human ancestors interbred with the Denisovans.

"The genome is of very high quality. It matches the quality of the Denisovan genome, presented last year, and is as good as or even better than the multiple present-day human genomes available to date," said Dr. Kay Prüfer, who coordinates the analyses of the genome in Leipzig, in a statement

Richard G. Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University in California, told The Associated Press that the latest study is "a monumental achievement that no one would have thought possible 10 or perhaps even five years ago."

The study team will now be comparing the Neanderthal genome with the genome of a Denisovan.

"We are in the process of comparing this Neandertal genome to the Denisovan genome as well as to the draft genomes of other Neandertals. We will gain insights into many aspects of the history of both Neandertals and Denisovans and refine our knowledge about the genetic changes that occurred in the genomes of modern humans after they parted ways with the ancestors of Neandertals and Denisovans" said Pääbo.

Although the study finding will be published later this year, researchers said that they will be sharing their work with other researchers studying Neanderthals.

"But we make the genome sequence freely available now to allow other scientists to profit from it even before it is published" concluded Pääbo.

The genome of the Neanderthal was decoded by a team of researchers led by Dr. Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and can be found here.

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